US tax return: a pleasing experience

Last night, I finally got around to completing my US tax return, given a looming deadline of 10 April. I say tax return. It should really be plural, as I had to file a Federal one, along with two state returns, one for my state of employment and one for my state of residency. Anyway, all in all, it was rather a pleasing experience. Here are some highlights.

First of all, an excerpt from a statement by the IRS commissioner:

American taxpayers made history in 2005. For the first time, over half of all individuals filed their tax returns electronically. More than 68 million people "e-filed".

Quite an impressive achievement!

Last year I got an accountant to sort it all out, given that I was relatively new to the country, and had little idea what I needed to complete, less still how to complete it.

While this cost me, the help was invaluable. The most useful thing she did (apart from the filing itself) was to give me a full copy of everything she filed, both for my records and so that I could copy her work this time around. It was relatively straightforward to use last year’s W2 and tax return, along with this year’s W2, to figure out this year’s tax return. It was kind of like a set of equations: I was substituting this year’s values of x (items on this year’s W2) and constants (e.g. standard deductions), where I had been given the relationship between x (items on last year’s W2) and y (items on last year’s tax return).

The software (I used TurboTax) was very simple to use, although the lure cost of $9.95 for the Federal return was augmented with a healthy $24.95 per state thereafter (cunningly communicated after I’d done the hard work), taking my total bill up to $59.85. I assume that’s tax deductible next year.

The most satisfying aspect was that there was little authentication; specifically, there was no pre-processing to the actual filing that I needed to go through. I didn’t need to register for a password and await its delivery.

It seems that the only authentication they needed was my correctly inputting a specified amount from my previous year’s Federal return. If I entered this correctly, then it assumed that I was who I said I was, and that no one else would be willing to solicit this information for the sake of completing the tax return on my behalf.


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