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The Taxing Task of Tax Prep

While you were reading Sunday's business section, did you catch my review of three tax-prep programs--TurboTax, TaxCut* and TaxAct? If so, you got to see the end product of the single worst part of my job.

I try out a lot of products that, at best, make an unwanted task palatable; anti-virus utilities and spam filters come to mind. Tax-preparation software seems worse, though. The problems it aims to solve can't be blamed on any hostile outsiders, but on our own, duly elected representatives. That is, this entire category of software shouldn't have to exist.

I talked about this in last year's column on tax-prep applications, in which I ranted about the needless complexity of a tax code.

What social purpose can possibly be served by having five flavors of capital gains? Does Schedule C need four kinds of asset depreciation? Where's the logic in deducting interest paid to buy a stock, but not a car? Must we subsidize every alleged good deed with a tax credit?

I expanded on my thoughts in an accompanying blog post:

It's not the amount of tax I owe that bothers me. It's how that's determined: We've allowed a fundamental obligation of citizenship to be turned into a game--one rigged to favor the people with the best lobbyists, lawyers and accountants.

A year later, even with a simpler tax scenario to compute, I still resent having to use the likes of TurboTax in the first place. How are you supposed to follow the law if you can't understand it without the help of a computer program? The tax code has become an insult to any thinking American.

I would like to think that we could do better, but the past two decades have given me few reasons for hope in that department. If anybody reading this can produce credible evidence that Clinton, McCain or Obama will do something about this for a change, won't you please offer it in the comments?


* Yes, the story somehow referred to TaxCut as "Kiplinger TaxCut," a name it hasn't had since the 2000 edition. Don't ask me how a mistake as obvious as that escaped notice over two weeks of writing and editing (the reviewer typed while banging his head on the desk in frustration). A correction is on the way...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 10, 2008; 11:32 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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