Friday, April 2, 2010

How Not to Write A How-To

I've been quiet for a while. The simple truth of it is, doing taxes turns my brain to mush.

Being the daughter of an accountant, I've been doing my own taxes all my life. Okay, yes, I did switch to Turbo Tax when I started having writing income and expenses--mainly to make sure I wasn't overlooking anything--but until a few years ago, I thought I had a handle on what I was doing. Lately though, I've felt like I can't bend my mind around the task.

Have I reached the age where enough brain cells have died that the synapses assigned to taxes need a government stimulus to rebuild the bridges? Is my financial life that much more complicated (short of the war I've been waging with Bank of America because they've made 5 errors in the last 2 years, some of which have cost me money)? The short answer to that last question is "no way."

So why? Well, let's take a look at the history of the 1040 Instruction Booklet.

1982: The booklet was 48 pages which, besides the 1040 and schedule instructions, included a whole page of where-to-mail addresses, an index, and a blank page for NOTES.

1990: 64 pages, not much difference from above, just 33% longer.

1999: 117 pages, 70 of which were the actual 1040 instructions, with schedule instructions tacked onto the end.

2004: 128 pages total. 77 pages for the 1040, the rest for the schedules.

2007: 153 total. 87 pages for the 1040.

2009: 175 total. 103 pages for the 1040. Total booklet now has 265% more pages than in 1982.

175 pages
. That's half a novel. As for content, here's a random quote from page 32:

If you received income from a non-qualified deferred compensation plan or nongovernmental section 457 plan that is box 1 of your Form W-2, or in box 7 of Form 1099-MISC, do not include that income on line 8 of the worksheet. The income should be shown in (a) box 11 of your Form W-2, (b) box 12 of your Form W-2 with code Z, or (c) box 15b of Form 1099-MISC.

175 pages of that.

So here's an idea. DC, are you listening? Take a bunch of writers who listed a loss on their Schedule C this past year (lots to choose from), and put them to work rewriting the 1040 instructions so normal folks can understand them again.


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