Taxing times
February 19, 2021 1:46 PM   Subscribe

In time for tax season, will you qualify for a free return using TurboTax? Apparently not, due to dark pattern programming...

Yes, it’s getting to be that time again, US tax time I mean. Although the IRS is not only underfunded but also struggling to keep up with normal paperwork from 2020 shutdowns and the refund checks, with terrible consequences for low income taxpayers.

To add insult to injury, did you know that your trusty friends at TurboTax (and likely other tax prep software companies) have been making it near impossible to file a free refund, despite many website claims to the contrary? Or at least that was true as of 2019, so I’m going to guess it’s still an issue. Yes, that’s dark patterns for you, although how that isn’t also false advertising, I’m not sure...

Taxes being a timeless issue on MetaFilter, the faux free issue was discussed here and here, and here’s a bonus link about the time the IRS computer crashed... in 2018????

Meanwhile, in Australia, I’m able to do my own taxes—which, no way for my US taxes—using the online government system that gets easier to use every year. (Yes, Australia has problems, like everywhere, but doing income taxes is comparatively a delight... and you’ll note I didn’t say state or federal, because there’s only one form!!!!)
posted by ec2y (50 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hasan Minhaj also did a segment on this in (the now defunct) Patriot Act.
posted by bl1nk at 1:49 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


I've found FreeTaxUsa to do what it says on the tin - free federal tax filing. States cost, but less than what Turbo or HRBlock charges.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 2:07 PM on February 19 [10 favorites]



Here are your options for free online tax returns according to the IRS.
posted by fizzix at 2:08 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


I like TurboTax the program but I have stopped using it due to Intuit being terribly evil.

Just for context, the entire IRS budget is on the order of ~$12B, Intuit's revenue was ~$7.7B.
posted by benzenedream at 2:15 PM on February 19 [20 favorites]


I used the link fizzix posted earlier in the month, picked one that gave me free federal and state filing, and already got my federal refund.
posted by one4themoment at 2:27 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Wait, Americans have to track state and federal taxes separately?
posted by krisjohn at 2:49 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


Wait, Americans have to track state and federal taxes separately?

Oh yes! And if we're really lucky we get to file a local tax return, too. And if you earn money in multiple states, you might get to file in each of them!
posted by jedicus at 2:56 PM on February 19 [37 favorites]


Yep. Most states base your state return on your federal return, but they’re all different in their own way. Some states don’t have state income taxes at all, or only tax some subset of income (dividends and interest in TN, though that’s going away).

If you work in one state and live in another, you have to file both places so it gets worked out correctly.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:57 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Yep, this just happened to me on TurboTax's "free" online service: I got all the way to the end of it, only for it to spring the news that I needed to upgrade to their $40 Deluxe version because my new employers put $19 in an HSA in December and their free version doesn't handle HSAs.

That's on top of the $40 charge for state filing that I forgot they do because I recently lived in a state with no income tax.

I considered finding another site and starting the whole process over, but laziness won over stinginess. Which is what they count on, of course. And why they didn't tell me until the very end of the process.
posted by frogstar42 at 3:21 PM on February 19 [13 favorites]


The ATO is an incredibly helpful government organisation. When I needed to tell them about my name change, all I had to do was put in the reference code on the marriage certificate and boom, name changed (and correct) , spousal status updated. Of course, they take your money so they are incentivised to make the process smooth and helpful. They are one of my favourite government organisations to deal with. I'm surprised (but also not) that the IRS isn't similarly motivated.

We registered a birth this last year, and we were able to send a photograph of our various documents for identification. Births Deaths and Marriages is a little more clunky but still fairly helpful. Every other government department and other organisation: have had to get a certified copy and mail it in.

Don't get me started on Centrelink. A central premise of the organisation seems to be awkward and confusing design and then hostile customer service so people give up and don't claim what they are entitled to and need. And thus I'm not surprised by the IRS being a feared government organisation.
posted by freethefeet at 3:43 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


California Congressperson Ro Khanna wants to give the IRS a lot more money for enforcement, so they can effectively audit the ultra-rich and corporations. Maybe they can use a little of the money they recover from tax cheats to fund a proper online filing system that Intuit can't lobby out of existence?

(Also, big thanks to ProPublica - several of the links in the main post go to their stories, and their series on The TurboTax Trap includes about 40 stories, most from the last few years, but starting way back in 2013. ProPublica is a national treasure.)
posted by kristi at 3:45 PM on February 19 [17 favorites]


Doing my taxes in Chile is:

a) log on to the government tax site.
b) click on 'yearly taxes'
c) click on 'accept'
d) wait a month or so
e) get my refund deposited in my account.
f) marvel at the fact that even though I'm like 95th percentile for income, I still get a decent refund.
posted by signal at 4:06 PM on February 19 [19 favorites]


Wait, Americans have to track state and federal taxes separately?

Yes and because states don't sign international treaties if you do even $1 of income out-of-country suddenly you have two completely different sets of financial states to deal with. It's nuts.

I just suck it up and pay the tax-tax because eh, doing them by hand is hard. Although my taxes still got screwed up online last year.
posted by GuyZero at 4:22 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


In NZ if you're a permanent employee (not a contractor) you don't really have to do anything unless you've got undeclared income from sources that isn't already taxed or you need to make a claim for a refund (altho' in many cases they'll sort that out automatically too). PAYE - 'pay as you earn' - its just handled automagically as part of your paycheck. Its awesome.
posted by phigmov at 4:32 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


Just filed. TurboTax offered to take payment for the tax prep service via my federal refund, plus a $40 "processing fee". Seriously, what?
posted by Jubal Kessler at 4:36 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Doing my taxes in the UK is:
a) look at my P60 (tax summary form) at the end of the year to check I've paid the right amount of tax.
b) there is no step b.

My employer reports my income online to the government, and gets back a taxcode. This is used to calculate my income tax and national insurance payments, taken direct from my pay, spread through the year. If I change job, I get a summary of income and tax paid which I give to my new employer, so they can work out how much tax I will owe, accounting for tax-free threshold etc. If I get a pay rise, my tax code changes. Any minor discrepencies by payroll are resolved by tweaking my tax code to balance it out the next year; major ones result in a cheque back to me, or a tax bill. (I've had the former, once, but not the latter).

If I was self-employed, or had significant income from savings, I'd need to do a single tax form to report it online.

The UK gets a lot of things wrong, but the simplicity of the PAYE system for the vast majority of people isn't one of them. I understand dealing with HMRC directly for complex issues can be soul-destroyingly time-consuming though, as they're rather understaffed.

Yes, I know the US has almost 5 times the population of the UK, but the reason it's so complex and costly to pay your taxes is surely political, not technical.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 4:38 PM on February 19 [15 favorites]


Wait, Americans have to track state and federal taxes separately?

And up to three years ago, state taxes were deductible from federal taxes. Trump got rid of that deduction as a specific “fuck you” to Democratic-leaning states, which tend to have higher taxes (being socialist and all).
posted by mr_roboto at 4:39 PM on February 19 [11 favorites]


the reason it's so complex and costly to pay your taxes is surely political, not technical.

I mean, if you consider millions in corporate lobbying political instead of a capitalist parasite on the brainstem of legislature, then yes.
posted by supercres at 4:49 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]


I'm surprised (but also not) that the IRS isn't similarly motivated.

The IRS more or less *is* similarly motivated.

The Republican party isn't. In addition to their core social philosophy -- impose suffering and profit off the solution -- they also feel like they benefit whenever taxes or any interaction with government is difficult.

And the tax prep lobby is powerful enough to pick off some (though definitely not all) Democrats.

As always, if you want government that's effective and works for everyone, it's crucial to avoid voting Republican, and try to vote for more Warren/Sanders/AOC Dems where possible (and any Dem where not).
posted by wildblueyonder at 4:51 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]


Yes, I know the US has almost 5 times the population of the UK, but the reason it's so complex and costly to pay your taxes is surely political, not technical.

I'm not sure that "political" is the right characterization. The thing about the US tax code is that for decades it has served not only as a system for generating revenue, but as one for implementing policy.

For instance, an idea that was championed early on by the Republicans (back when they were a functioning political party and not a racist dumpster fire) was that of a negative income tax. It was really an early form of universal basic income--you use the tax system to make direct payments to people who have income but live under the poverty line. This idea received a lot of support across the political spectrum and has settled itself into the tax code as the Earned Income Tax Credit.

So a reasonable policy goal: providing income to people under the poverty line. But the implementation is complicated. You qualify based on income, and the benefit is phased out gradually as income approaches the threshold. So that's a form to complete.

Encouraging home ownership has been another policy goal of the tax code over the decades. Another form to fill out.

Incentivising retirement savings? Another form.

And so on.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:52 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]


By "political" I meant it's the Republicans (and Democrats who've been bribed) at fault. As in it sucks because the awful politicians that get elected want it to, rather than it's too hard a problem to simplify; the complexity of the tax system is itself a choice. Though admittedly, getting the American public to *not* vote for shysters and conmen, let alone outright conspiracy nuts and fascists is a hard problem.

You qualify based on income, and the benefit is phased out gradually as income approaches the threshold. So that's a form to complete.

So have the IRS do it. They have the data, after all. This is what most countries do for that sort of thing. The UK has various tax incentives for 1st time buyers and home improvement grants, but that doesn't involve a separate form on my annual taxes.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 5:03 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


As in it sucks because the awful politicians that get elected want it to, rather than it's too hard a problem to simplify; the complexity of the tax system is itself a choice.

It's certainly a choice, but it's a choice that's been made for reasons that are, in some respect, valid. The policy goals pursued by the tax system are often progressive ones, and historically advocates for tax simplification have been right-wingers, usually from the libertarian wing of the Republican party. Proposals for tax simplification have almost universally benefited the rich.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:10 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Turbo Tax comes to my email inbox, and I say, hell yeah, you can do my taxes for free. They do my taxes for free, my taxes for the last 4 years, attest to it. It is free, it is easy, and so on. I filed before they were even accepting returns, both returns have been accepted. I could have made a lot more money, and still filed for free.
posted by Oyéah at 5:16 PM on February 19


PSA for PA people: The state has a new income tax site. They won't let me link directly to the income tax section, but you can scroll down an click "File a PA Personal Income Tax Return for 2020". You do not need to create a myPATH account (this tripped me up). The new site is way better than the clunky old version, and I was done with state taxes in about 5 or 10 minutes.

Like others, I do my and my mother's federal taxes in FreeTaxUSA. I'm sure it's not as hand-holdy as TurboTax, but it's easy enough, asks relevant questions, and shows what you entered the previous year so you can tell if you missed something.

(Still, though, shouldn't have to do all this shit)
posted by dirigibleman at 5:34 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Trump got rid of that deduction as a specific “fuck you” to Democratic-leaning states

The 2017 tax bill didn't eliminate the deduction, it capped it at $10k. Now, because of the increased standard deduction (to $12k/$24k) that means many people no longer itemize and so the deduction is claimed less.

Most people would not have been affected by this, as you'd need more than $12k as a single filer or $24k as a joint filer in state income tax to be affected. Homeowners were more likely, since the $10k cap includes property tax as well. In fact, it probably mostly only affected homeowners, since the income required to be losing out just based on state income tax is quite high [for a married California couple, you'd need about $300k in adjusted income to be paying more than $24k in state tax].

It did, however, have the interesting effect of pissing off rich Republicans in blue states which may have been part of why places like Orange County went blue in 2018.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:36 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Well that doesn't seem right. There are more deductions than state/local tax, and the $12/24k covers all of them. So you'd need more than $24k in state/local tax plus all your other deductions combined, which makes it much more likely that people will hit that number.
posted by alexei at 8:40 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Well, it can't affect you at all until you have over $10k in state tax, so you'd need a household income of $145k as a single person or $180k as a married couple, or significant property taxes. So I think it's safe to say most people are not affected, median household income in California is only $75k. At $75k you're only paying about $3600 as a single filer or $1600 joint, so you'd need at least $6400 in property/local taxes. Property tax like that would mean a house with an assesed value around $900k. You can easily make right around $300k and not be affected, depending on your income sources and deductions.

I don't know every state tax though, so maybe some states have a much higher income tax than California?
posted by thefoxgod at 9:29 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I switched from Evil Turbo Tax to another program, but it didn't catch something so I had to file an amended return with an additional dependent. When stimulus checks went out, they weren't based on the amended return, so now I am going to crawl back to Turbo Tax out of fear and try to get that missing stimulus money. I feel dirty.
posted by mecran01 at 9:52 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Proposals for tax simplification have almost universally benefited the rich.

This is what scares me about it. There's no good reason we couldn't have simple taxes that are fair; the fear is that it would be unfair for bad reasons.

I still remember the year that Republicans tried to change the tax code so that graduate students would have to pay taxes on their tuition waivers and research grants. Imagine living on less than $25,000 a year and owing almost $10,000 in taxes.

Like, yeah, filing my taxes would have been much simpler if the tuition waivers and grants were counted as income. This is what I always think of when "simplifying" the tax code comes up. A lot of the "complications" are actually there to help people. (Not all, by any means, but some of the complications that do exist make a lot of difference.)

Like, I think you have hit the nail on the head - we are so bad at just helping people directly that we've had to sneak in some forms of economic help through the tax code.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:36 PM on February 19 [9 favorites]


Like, I think you have hit the nail on the head - we are so bad at just helping people directly that we've had to sneak in some forms of economic help through the tax code.

That's an absolutely fair point.

We get child benefit, because we have children. This is a flat payment per child per month that goes into my wife's bank account. We registered for it online, and it will continue until they are 18. It's not counted as income, so has no impact on our taxes. (there is now a claw-back tax for very high earners, but most just don't claim it).

The system for applying for benefits is harder than it used to be, takes longer, and the opposite of generous (thanks, right wing government), but once approved they just send you money, and use the PAYE system to reduce them as your income rises.

With our tax-free threshold for income; the first £12,500 you pay no tax, up to £50k you pay 20%, above that you pay 40%, above £150k, 45%. So the amount of tax you owe is calculated by the gov, and it's taken direct from your monthly paycheck.

Just giving poor people money instead of a super-complex tax rebate system you have to jump through hoops not to pay the turbotax tax for is too socialist an approach I guess.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 2:08 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


(Note that TFA is bylined April 2019: I’ve no idea if that means the situation described has improved or not in the meanwhile.)
posted by notyou at 3:10 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]




The US tax system is PAYE as well. Employees have to fill out a W-4 that tells their employers how much to withhold every paycheck, and contractors/self-employed people have to file quarterly estimated taxes (which are due on an irregular, non-quarterly schedule of Jan, Apr, Jun, Sep). The thing we all agonize over filing every April 15 is your sworn-under-penalty-of-perjury summary statement of what you should have paid, which the IRS compares against what you actually paid. The "refunds" everyone is so excited to get in the spring is really just returning the amount you overpaid in the previous calendar year. But if you underpay there is a serious penalty. So the incentive is definitely in favor of the interest-free loan.

I was not a homeowner when the SALT cap went into effect, but my parents were, and apparently there was a looooong line at their local tax office of people trying to file their property taxes like a year early, so they could still deduct. (No dice.)

I did have a time when I moved halfway through the year into a district with a separate School Income Tax, which I didn't even know about/TurboTax didn't prompt me about, so several months later they sent an unsigned letter on plain white non-letterhead paper informing me about the massive penalty I now had to pay. It honestly looked like a scam letter. Once I finally talked to someone in the tax office, it turned out they were counting my whole-year income rather than my since-moving income, so it sort of was a scam! (Love ya, Philly!)

But yeah, the biggest scam of all is the way tax prep software is set up. Count me as another satisfied user of FreeTaxUSA.
posted by basalganglia at 5:29 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


They got rid of SALT but also did something to deductions. Two years ago my refunds were ~2K as a single person making ~70k. Its now $300 and it definitely doesn't feel like there's an extra ~120 per pay check.

Also deductions are a crawling madness, especially at the state level. If someone said, "you can deduct the time spent to drive piles for a dock that will support boats sinking crab pots on prime numbered days" I'd say, yeah, that tracks for MD.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:40 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


"Filing taxes" is alongside "paying out of pocket for required medical care" as one of those uniquely American ways we make our life unnecessarily difficult.

One year I had a refund due, but forgot to include some or other 1099. The IRS sent me a little note saying "you miscalculated your AGI, we've knocked $X off your refund." Because they already know what the numbers should be. I'm halfway convinced that if I sent them a blank 1040 with "you know the numbers, charge me the right amount" and my bank information at the end, they'd just apply the right charge or refund.

The ritual where everyone we have a tax relationship prints that information out, then sends us that printout, and then we type that information in, print it out, and send those printouts to the IRS, who compare it to the numbers which had been electronically sent to the IRS in the first place... well, there's a reason the rest of the world doesn't do it that way.
posted by jackbishop at 5:42 AM on February 20 [11 favorites]


> In NZ if you're a permanent employee (not a contractor) you don't really have to do anything unless you've got undeclared income from sources that isn't already taxed or you need to make a claim for a refund (altho' in many cases they'll sort that out automatically too).

US income tax is also, as noted, Pay As You Earn, but there are complications and mitigating issues that continue to put the onus on the individual to rectify the accounts come annual tax time. A big part are the additional tiers of income taxes -- I pay a state and a local income tax*, which since they can influence how much I owe on the subsequent year's federal income tax, have to be calculated by me, the filer, because the fed don't keep up** with every community's unique and changing income tax calculations.

And various other financial changes have to be self-reported, such as inheritance income, farm income (which gets handled differently than other forms of earned income), contributions into or withdrawals from certain types of saving and investment accounts, property sales... the values of some of these are simple additions or deductions from your declared annual earned income, others have relatively trivial adjustments (eg, 80% of the value of a thing, rather than 100%, might be added to your earned income), some forms of income, or subsets of your regular income, are considered part of your declared annual earned income but are not taxable, such as the money you earn and deposit into a Flexible Spending Account (which is effectively a savings account which can only be used on health expenses)... the value of things you use to make money, such as your computer if you're a self-employed programmer, depreciate over time and can be treated as a deductible asset. There are more complicated and intricate adjustments, some of which require forms that also go on for many pages per type of adjustment, but my mind's blanking on them and for God's sake please allow me to remain in ignorance for now.

*(in addition to city, local, and state sales taxes which in aggregate total 10% on some items, including food... it's almost as if certain other people aren't paying their fair share of income taxes here and I have to make up the difference, huh?)

**(I mean yes, they have computers, so it's feasible, but reliable enforcement would require standardized tax law formulae and all those cities, counties and states would have to to update with the feds in that standardized way in a timely manner, and good luck with that; the residents of Whatever County in Whichever State will continue to be stuck calculating this by hand if the county tax board failed to file with the IRS in time, which they could do out of laziness or simple error or, as seems to increasingly happen these days in certain parts of the country, as a pyrrhic and senseless protest against the tyrrany and corruption of the federal government.)
posted by at by at 7:13 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


The US tax system is PAYE as well. Employees have to fill out a W-4 that tells their employers how much to withhold …

That's a very niche definition of PAYE. In every system I've lived under, the employer knows how much they're paying you, assumes that's all you're being paid, and calculates the taxes accordingly. If you have other income, you are supposed to sort it out with your employer's payroll. Many people don't.

Constantly reminding people that they have to pay taxes is a great way to piss them off. Most other countries, taxes just happen: sales taxes built into prices, income tax quietly does its thing every year, ... the concept of "tax season" is outlandish
posted by scruss at 9:39 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Constantly reminding people that they have to pay taxes is a great way to piss them off

This is not an accident.
posted by doomsey at 10:11 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]


That's a very niche definition of PAYE. In every system I've lived under, the employer knows how much they're paying you, assumes that's all you're being paid, and calculates the taxes accordingly.

That's how it works in the US.

It gets more -- and mostly needlessly -- complicated in two common ways.

The first, which is less common after the last tax changes, is a raft of deductions. The feds know about some of these (like mortgage interest) but not about others, like state and local taxes. A large majority of people end up taking the standard deduction instead of specific deductions, tho.

The second is how US taxes deal with marriage. Basically, married couples count as one Super Person. For an individual, you shift from the 12% bracket to the 22% at $40K, but a married couple keeps paying 12% until $80K.

This means that a family with one spouse earning $75K and the other not working in the market has all their income under the 22% bar, saving them a lot of money. And it means that a family with two earners both earning $38K pay about what they would individually. If you have one person earning $75K, though, that means that your family income switches from 12% to 22% when the other partner earns just $5K. But that spouse's job is probably going to keep withholding at 12% (because they don't know who you're married to and how much they earn) and you end up owing the feds (but probably still saving over your individual rates).

tl;dr: to do really good withholding in the US, the IRS would have to more formally keep track of who is married to who, keep employers in the loop, and tell everyone's employers how much their spouse makes.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:22 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Most people could just use the fillable PDF forms from the IRS website. The 1040 instructions aren't that hard. The idea that tax filing is some complicated task that you need special software or a professional accountant for is just marketing hype from tax prep companies. Only rich people have taxes complicated enough to need that sort of professional help.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:43 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Only rich people have taxes complicated enough to need that sort of professional help.

This is a ridiculous thing to say, not everyone has a single W-2 employer. Try asking your Uber driver how complicated their taxes are. Sole proprietors make up like 70%+ of all businesses in the US and I would bet very few of those individuals qualify as 'rich'. If you have a payroll job or two and have never thought about doing anything but taking the standard deduction, then it's true that your 1040 is pretty easy to fill out.

But it does not take exotic circumstances or large assets to make your taxes needlessly complicated in the US and that is by design. The fact that health insurance is tied to your taxes as a federal credit if you buy a plan on the state ACA exchanges is one example of how a regular person can easily create a giant mess for themself. You receive a tax credit based on your estimated income, if you estimate wrong you will owe the IRS back for the private health insurance they forced you to buy at the end of the year. Yet the people who buy these types of plans as individuals - people like your Uber driver - have no idea what their annual taxable income will be. Their income is not regular and the standard deduction might sound like a lot at $12k, but that's only $1k/month in overhead if you're an independent worker. That's not a lot, less than 2000 miles a month mileage for your hypothetical Uber driver. And they need to file those quarterly estimates as well, hope you didn't forget those deadlines, there's a penalty and interest on that too...
posted by bradbane at 11:46 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I read this article a week or two ago.

I just used the free turbotax one, it worked, and I filed for free. The one thing it would not allow me to do was file in a second state. I live in state A and earned income and paid state income tax in state B, much of which will be refunded to me, as it has been in previous years when I used the paid turbotax. So now I just have to find somewhere to print up state B forms, fill them out, and mail them.
posted by mareli at 12:19 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


> Only rich people have taxes complicated enough to need that sort of professional help.

I have been a 1099 employee on and off in my adult life and would like to punch this assertion in the nose. The paperwork is awful and in hindsight I would have hired a professional to do it. Because even though I was not paid well enough to budget for the $300 or so a professional would have cost, it turns out they would have saved me more than $300 on the taxes to do it, because taxes in the world of the independent contractor are subtle and dangerous.
posted by at by at 1:53 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Yes, I thought I’d post because US taxes are a huge hassle. It was just such a revelation to come here to Australia and see that it doesn’t have to be so complicated and antagonistic to do taxes. The tax form even asks you how long it took at the end and where they could improve, and I think they even read the feedback, given the improvements I see each year.

Though there is no escape - living abroad still means having to do US taxes, unlike most other countries, where that would only be if you owned property or investments. The year I selected the wrong option and started getting nasty letters from the IRS was the year I started paying an accountant a couple thousand dollars to do all the foreign income stuff for working in Australia. Definitely money well spent. And selecting the wrong option was easy to do, because it’s almost like the options are meant to be confusing - which is like the opposite of the Australian system.

One thing I love about the Australian system is that the system automatically pulls down all of your income and withholding from your employer. That would be more complicated for the self employed, but probably not much more. I have done non-reimbursed work expenses and it is so easy! Plus all the deductions are clearly explained and the whole thing gets better every year, in my experience.

The other thing I like is that you usually get a pamphlet with your finalized tax statement after filing that breaks down the major categories and $$ of what your personal taxes get spent on, and seeing things like Medicare (the national system for everyone), transportation, etc. Although come to think of it, I haven’t seen that since they moved to online only (no paper), so I’m not sure on the last one.

Government systems that are nice and easy to use make people want to use them! I think that’s a worthwhile goal.
posted by ec2y at 1:59 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


One of the federal parties in the US sees all taxes and government as evil. They are starting to see this through to its logical conclusion -- become terrorists rather than elected officials.
posted by benzenedream at 2:43 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I realize this post is a couple days old, but if your US taxes are fairly simple, even if you earn more than $72K, I find that Credit Karma Tax does a great job. I've already got my refund. Note: I own nothing and I only sold about 20 shares of stock this year, so pretty easy stuff. But it's a fairly robust form system.
posted by taterpie at 11:52 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Perhaps downloading forms from the IRS site and filling them out by hand isn't suitable for everyone, or even most people, but it's worth noting that if you have a payroll job, it is absolutely possible. As of February of last year, 152 million people had payroll jobs, so it's not exactly like everyone is a sole proprietor.

I don't think that everyone should download 1040s and do them by hand (though that's what I do), but it's kinda frustrating that in any discussion of taxes its assumed that of course you can only do taxes with tax prep software or an accountant, no other options exist, and if anyone mentions doing it by hand they're kinda seen as freaks.
posted by Bugbread at 3:37 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Oops, forgot to mention that Credit Karma Tax is free. (it's web-based, saves your data from last year if you used it last year, can handle state tax filing for most states (also free)). I used to do my own IRS forms but this does simplify a bit, at the same price!
posted by taterpie at 1:34 PM on February 21


I am in my fifth year volunteering with TaxAide (AARP sponsors our site, but not all) where we file taxes for free for seniors and people with lower incomes. I agree that the tax lobby has succeeded in actually making things more difficult AND making things seem more difficult. However, I also get an upfront look at how there is still a large portion of the population that needs help with a basic return. Others could file on their own but come to us because we are trained every year on the state and federal changes.

As for itemizing, we have a mix of single vs married filers and renters vs homeowners. Our last full year (filing 2018 in 2019), around one percent of our returns were itemized. In the past, it was more like 20 percent. A single homeowner is the most likely to qualify since their SALT cap is 10K and they only need a couple grand more to hit the standard deduction. The L in SALT means local taxes and that includes the property tax on your home.
posted by soelo at 8:31 AM on February 22


Er, sure, we all know the US is in many ways, a hairy little mess.

"Yes, I know the US has almost 5 times the population of the UK, but the reason it's so complex and costly to pay your taxes is surely political, not technical.

I'm not sure that "political" is the right characterization. The thing about the US tax code is that for decades it has served not only as a system for generating revenue, but as one for implementing policy.
" I would argue, based on the current political climate - yes*, a significant portion of taxation is* political. When the president has the ability to relieve tens of thousands of dollars of obviously unnecessary debt and chooses not to do so, the taxation is somewhat political. (referring to Biden's decline to relieve $50K tax debt, a debt arguably similar to say, the analogy of arresting people for smoking cannabis - senseless and unnecessary)

All expressed, outlets for relief are available this year, the EITC (earned income tax credit) is one option, crossing fingers others arrive.
posted by firstdaffodils at 11:33 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


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