Tuesday, April 12, 2005

HELL-A-FILE

Anyone used to telefiling Massachusetts taxes may find themselves feeling suddenly stupid, but it’s a change in the forms, not brain chemistry, that’s doing it.

The 2003 telefile sheet was largely free of confusion and could be done just by looking at forms provided by employers, banks and such. This year the commonwealth’s Department of Revenue made curious changes ending those advantages. For instance, last year they identified which boxes to look in on a W2 to fill in the corresponding worksheet boxes; this year they decided to end the specificity and instead make a blanket suggestion: “Refer to the box numbers on your Form(s) W-2.”

This seems remarkably useless, considering that the previous sentence is about entering “information from each Form W-2.” It’s possible someone could enter information from the forms without referring to the box numbers, but it’s a bit like dialing a phone using an address book ... without referring to the phone numbers you need.

Further examples: Anyone used to telefiling knows, as last year’s return instructed, to “Round all dollar amounts to the nearest dollar (do not include cents).” Is that still the rule? Who knows? There are no such directions on the current form, and the department’s Web site is spectacularly unhelpful on this, and several other, obvious questions.

Last year’s return also put unemployment compensation calculations on a page skipped if there’s no such compensation to calculate. This time around, it’s questions 7 and 7a of a total 22 and requests “Total Massachusetts withholding for unemployment compensation (from Form 1099-G),” implying cause for concern even when there’s none. For many people, the issue’s gone from invisible and harmless to high, thick and prominent hurdle.

This is the last year of telefiling for the federal return; it’s been killed to save money, along with many Internal Revenue Service branch offices and most tax assistance by telephone. Massachusetts has made it look as though they’re killing the wrong one.

4 comments:

eric said...

I've worked about twelve ours on our taxes, and they're still not done. I decided this afternoon to just kind of ignore them for a half a day. And we don't even have a state income tax. But I did notice that Turbo Tax is asking a helluva lot more questions than it used to ask of me. Childcare, mortgage payment, salary and charitable contributions seemed to be the major issues before...now they've made it so each one of those can have another 20 questions. And try figuring out a home office and un-reimbursed business expenses -- It's nuts.

Scape7 said...

Yes, taxes seem to be getting more complex again. But are these Clinton-era changes having finally made their way through the system, or gifts from our less-government-is-better friends now in the White House? More on this tomorrow, I think, since I've already posted for the day ...

eric said...

Or I they first-term Bush II changes finally making ti in? I have a hard time giving a free skate to a second-term POTUS.

eric said...

Geeze my typing sucks. Just as aside.