22 February, 2010

Taxing problem

Today, it takes more brains and effort to make out the income-tax form than it does to make the income.  ~Alfred E. Neuman
Today I visited the IRS. Fortunately I didn't need much from them. Just the forms and a bit of explanation on how to get three tax indentification numbers. Of course it still took an hour and I still have to fill in the form but it wasn't very painful.

I find it's always best to approach government departments - American, British, whatever - with two things: a free day and a positive attitude. Do not do what one man who came in did. You could practically see the world resting on his shoulders as he slumped in, surveyed the hordes of people already there (there were about 10 of us, but to him you could see they were hordes) and then slid towards the front desk, exclaiming loudly "I've come to find out how much tax I owe". Then he slumped sadly into a chair with a dramatic sigh. Perhaps his life is dreadful and he does owe a lot of tax. Luckily I think they owe us this year. We shall see. All I needed was a form or three.

I never thought I'd say this, but trust me, the British Inland Revenue should win Plain English prizes for their forms. First, there aren't nearly as many of them. Second, they have quite large writing on them. Third, most people never have to fill them in thanks to PAYE.  Fourth, they come in a range of attractive colours.

Not so over here. There was a large wall of forms, all black and white in what looked like 8pt. One woman came over to a chair with a sheaf several inches thick of paper she needed. Over here, everyone has to fill them in. And you can see they suffer. Of course, Americans have been complaining about tax since, well, the reign of George III. And they don't pay as much as we do (see note below!). Anyway, they complain. I wonder if the whole process was more streamlined with PAYE for most people and large print coloured forms, whether they would complain as much. Maybe it's the process as much as the amount that they hate.

N.B. Don't quote me on any of this, but I don't think there's as big a difference in the taxes we pay as people here like to think. Not once you include the state taxes with the federal. Not if you add your health insurance premiums and fees to the bill (what can I say, I love the NHS). And not if you consider that they pay more in Social Security than the British do in National Insurance. I think the Californians (who admittedly pay the most of any) pay slightly less. But of course when it comes to health - it's one of those Rumsfeldian known unknowns. And there are probably lots of other things we get for being democratic socialists or whatever that they don't - cheaper higher education for example?

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