IRS Touts New Tax-Return Form For Simplification, But Critics Say It's Not That Easy

Jun 28, 2018
Originally published on June 28, 2018 8:09 pm
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The IRS is planning to release a new tax return form. It will be the size of a large postcard. It's been touted as a way to simplify tax filing. Critics say that's mostly hype. And while the form may be smaller, it's still not simple. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The IRS is expected to unveil the new tax form as soon as tomorrow. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently gave a preview of the document.

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STEVEN MNUCHIN: And it will be a postcard as we've promised. And hardworking taxpayers won't have to spend nearly as much time filling out their taxes.

NAYLOR: Sounds good, right? Imagine filing your taxes on a postcard. What could be easier? But a quick look at a draft version of the form obtained by NPR tells you that things aren't quite so simple. For one thing, it's a rather large, two-sided postcard about the size of half a sheet of paper. It has 23 lines. The current 1040 form has 79. But people will still be required to file several pages of worksheets if they wish to itemize deductions.

And you'll want to put it in an envelope to mail it because you're not going to want your Social Security number and private financial information on display to just anyone. What's more, Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a Washington tax think tank, says the whole concept of a written tax form postcard is kind of irrelevant these days. Who uses paper?

HOWARD GLECKMAN: More than 90 percent of us file our tax returns electronically. And I suspect if you ask those 30-year-olds about postcards, they won't even know what you're talking about. So it's kind of a silly, kind of 1960s concept that makes for a good photo op, but it doesn't really change people's lives.

NAYLOR: President Trump and congressional Republicans promised to slim down the size of the 1040 form to a postcard when they first talked about their tax cut bill. The president even kissed a mock-up during a White House appearance. Gleckman says the new tax law Congress approved does make it easier for some filers.

GLECKMAN: The law significantly increased the size of the standard deduction, and that will simplify tax filing for lots of people - for millions of people. And that's a good thing in terms of simplicity. But changing the form for everyone else is a PR stunt and really has no effect on their lives.

NAYLOR: Except maybe to complicate them. For instance, if you receive alimony or can claim deductions for teachers' expenses or are claiming energy credits, you'll have to use one of the six new worksheets. Entries once on the tax form itself are now on the worksheets and might be overlooked by some taxpayers. And those worksheets and the new short form itself will all have to be stuffed into an envelope. And Gleckman says you probably won't even save on postage. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.