Planning to decipher IRS tax forms? Hope for some brilliant deductions

March 03, 1992|By Jack Broom | Jack Broom,Seattle Times

Looking for a little inspiration in these taxing times?

Just remember the words of that great American patriot, Patrick Henry, who stirred his fellow colonists with the immortal admonition:

"Indicate on line 29 of Schedule T of Form 1775 that I will be given liberty, or if you are unable to so certify, then write 'death' in the space provided on Alternative Form 1776RIP to indicate what I will be given."

OK, we exaggerate. Patrick Henry didn't use those exact words.

That's what he meant, of course, but the noble Virginian spoke a simple, rustic tongue -- English -- not the wonderful and complex "IRS-speak" that penetrates our homes this time each year.

If Henry and his associates had any inkling of the circuitous prose that would someday be circulated by the government they helped establish, they might have had serious second thoughts.

Consider this gem, from page 72 of the Form 1040 instructions:

"If you had preproductive period expenses in 1991 and you checked the 'No' box on line G of Schedule F because you decided to capitalize these expenses, you MUST enter the total of these expenses in parentheses on line 35f and write '263A' in the space to the left of the total."

Or this tidy bit of advice, from page 67:

"If you were a statutory employee and filed Schedule C to report your income and expenses, do not include the net profit or (loss) from line 31 of that Schedule C on line 2 of Short or Long Schedule SE."

Care for another? Then take a big gulp of air before reading this Form 1040 treasure from page 65:

"If you have conscientious objections to social security insurance because of your membership in and belief in the teachings of a religious sect recognized as being in existence at all times since December 31, 1950, and which has provided a reasonable level of living for its dependent members, you are not subject to SE tax if you got IRS approval by filing Form 4029, Application for Exemption From Social Security and Medicare Taxes and Waiver of Benefits."

Whew. As 74-word sentences go (77, if you count the numbers), that might not be the best we've ever seen. But it's close.

This tax season, the IRS expects to receive some 114 million individual tax returns. (According to unofficial sources, if all 114 million of us try to wade through "IRS-speak" at the same time, the sound of No. 2 pencils being snapped in frustration would shatter every window from Seattle to Key West.)

At least there's some reward for our labors: The IRS estimates about 80 percent of taxpayers will get a refund, which last year averaged $895 nationally.

But that's likely to drop next year because the government is letting many workers reduce the amount withheld from their paychecks.

To be fair, the IRS has attempted to lighten the burden of tax preparation. A current effort involves 85,000 taxpayers in Washington state who were sent optional Form 1040EZ-1, one of the simplest tax forms ever produced.

To complete the 1040EZ-1, also being tested in Rhode Island and Texas, taxpayers need only attach their W2s, check a couple of boxes, then let the IRS do the computations. Obviously, two requirements for the program are an uncomplicated tax situation and a hefty helping of faith in the IRS.

If you think "IRS-speak" is more complicated than it ought to be,you're not alone.

Some nattering nabob named Fred T. Goldberg Jr. recently complained that IRS forms are "too hard, too complicated, take too much paper and take too much time."

Griping like that might not seem unusual until you consider the source: Goldberg is assistant treasury secretary for tax policy and, until recently, ran the IRS.

In his "Note from the commissioner" inside the tax form, Goldberg says in plain English: "I think we're making progress. With your support and oversight, we'll get there. Don't settle for less."

But as the form continues page after page, form after form, schedule after schedule, "IRS-speak" sets in.

Chances are this language will always be with us, as long as government forms are written by, well, the government. Maybe an outsider should write the tax forms.

How about Carlton Fisk, Chicago White Sox catcher?

In a current magazine ad for Nike, Fisk runs off a string of 27 simple sentences, none with more than 10 words.

"I stay steady," he states. "I redefine the word consistency. Along the way there will surely be moments of brilliance. I am, after all, me."

On second thought, a Nike-esque tax form may be simpler than we really want. One can almost imagine the words that would jump off the page:

"Get out your checkbook. Look up the balance."

"Send it all to Uncle Sam."

"Don't argue or complain."

"Just do it."

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