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Filing a federal tax return online could be a lot easier [Commentary]

Personal IncomeApple iTunesInternal Revenue Service

Paying taxes is something I really don't have any trouble with.

Sure, like anyone, I'd rather keep all the money I earn, but the origins of the notion that the only sure things are death and taxes is old enough that the Internet itself isn't sure if it was penned by the sage of Philadelphia Ben Franklin, or someone farther back in antiquity. Certainly taxes were well-established, firmly entrenched and universally detested in the time of Christ.

Undoubtedly that an organized community needs to compel its citizens to fork over some money to help pay for things that advance the common good – things like defending the population from outside attack and picking up the garbage – is a notion that has been around since the time when four or five families got together and decided to join forces to build a fence around their houses for protection against wolves, bears and outsiders.

It doesn't really matter whether I like taxes, I'm going to have to pay them, but the bottom line is I don't mind it, at least in principle.

This isn't to say I'm gleeful about it, or that I think everything the various governments I help pay for are all as thrifty with my money as I would be. As a matter of practice, I've got plenty of complaints about how my money is being spent and whether too much of it is being spent on things I think are unnecessary or downright wasteful. I'm hardly alone in this, so I won't be putting forth a list of things I think could be cut to save a few billion here and a few billion there. Everyone who's given the matter the least bit of thought can come up with such a list, and I'd venture no two are exactly the same. The reason for this is simple: The program I think is a boondoggle and waste of money is a project someone else has identified as vital to the advancement of the state of humankind. These things are all debatable.

That's not what's been bugging me about taxes for the past two weeks or so. No, the thing that has my BVDs in an uncomfortable bunch is what I regard as the profound level of difficulty that the federal government has put in place to prevent me from filing my income tax paperwork in a way that saves time and money.

That is to say, the federal government has found a way to make paying taxes using the Internet (which, by the way is a technology made possible only by virtue of research funded by the federal government) to file taxes more difficult than filing by printing them out, putting them in an envelope and mailing them off to an IRS office.

It doesn't have to be this way. The state of Maryland, by contrast, has in electronic system that makes filing state income tax paperwork online almost as easy as buying a song from iTunes. My wife and I submitted our state return one day and within a week, we had received a refund check.

In this year's paperwork is a piece of paper with a few log-in names and coded passwords for my failed attempt to file the federal forms through the Internet. The problem, as I see it, is someone in the federal government figured it would be a good idea to contract this service out to a private party. Theoretically, it is possible to file for free, but it quickly becomes apparent the free version of the filing software is inferior to the point of being little more than a sales pitch for a better version of the tax form submission software.

I don't have any idea how much the revved up federal tax submission software costs, but I'm betting it's less than a first class postage stamp and an envelope. Much as I would have liked to file my taxes electronically, I just don't have the time to monkey around with an operation that has such a profound disrespect not only for how it spends some of my money, but also for the time I have to invest to make sure that money gets where they want it.

Until the federal government comes to the realization that one of the areas where governments have proven themselves more efficient than the private sector is collecting taxes, I'll continue to mail my federal return, even as the state seems to have joined the computer age when it comes to taxes.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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