As part of the Republican’s tax overhaul that culminated in the passage late last year of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, there was often talk of wanting taxes to be simple enough that they could be filed on a postcard. Now that has come to pass … sort of … with the official unveiling of a new form 1040 on Friday.
First, I just want to say that for the most part I try to stay apolitical when discussing tax policy. Whether I agree with the rules or not is less important in my situation than making sure everyone follows the rules (and puts them to their best use). In this case, though, this postcard really is a rather empty gesture calculated for its use as a sound bite and photo op. This is just a different look for an old form, it does not reflect any new policy or change in how your tax obligation will be calculated.
Now let’s start from the fact that calling this a postcard can only be done by thinking of it as a rather big postcard. Sure, the form is smaller, but it is still bigger than what you find on spinner racks in tourist destinations, is double-sided, and could still require other forms to make it part of a complete tax return. Some of the things that would require other forms are rather frequently used, too, like student loan interest and education tax credits.
Beyond what this form actually contains, though, lies the bigger question of when is the last time you actually filled out a 1040? Many of us of a certain age, (cough, cough), can remember going line by line down a 1040 as the main action behind filling out a tax return, but with around 90% of filers having moved on to electronic filing, we are no longer really filling out tax returns in this line-by-line manner.
Right, remember electronic filing? The thing that meant you no longer needed to mail in a tax return.
And remember postcards? Those things that you have to actually put in a mailbox.
Also, I’m not sure that something is really a postcard if you have to put it in an envelope, either. And that is something you really would want to do with this new form, otherwise all your identifying information, including a social security number, is available to seen by all whose hands it passes through.
Did I mention that this is really a largely hollow gesture?
Taxes really are going to be very different when it comes time to file next year. And again, politics aside, the increased standard deduction is going to mean that many people have a simpler tax return. That was one of the main goals of the legislation passed, and that was certainly a way to back up those claims and goals. This new form, though, is just bluster with no real substance.
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