So, we've been through a tax season with the new tax law.
A few figures from the IRS provide a few clues about how we did:- As of May 7, the Ogden Service Center (which handles returns from 12 other states and the Sacramento area in addition to Utah) had processed 10.3 million returns, and some 584,000 from the Salt Lake District. Those numbers were up slightly from last year.
- The average refund at the center is $808 this year, compared to $858 last year. For Salt Lake District taxpayers, the average refund is $757 this year compared to $832 last year. These numbers could reflect changes in the W4 forms that adjusted the amount of taxes being deducted, says William H. Craig, public affairs officer with the Salt Lake District office of the IRS. If you had a high return or if you owed a lot more this year, he says, you might want to double-check your W4 calculations. IRS publication #919 can help.
- Of the returns coming into the center this year, 75 percent were on Form 1040; 10 percent on 1040A, and 15 percent on 1040EZ.
- 11.2 of the 1040 returns, 14.3 percent of the 1040A returns and 4.4 percent of the 1040EZ returns had errors. Last year 9.6 percent of the 1040 forms had errors. The increase in errors could be related to changes in the forms, says Craig.
- The most common errors were: omitting required entries (40 percent of all the errors), putting entries in the wrong place (18.4 percent) and math errors (16.7 percent).
- Some 62.5 percent of all 1040 returns handled by the Ogden Center this year were prepared by someone other than the taxpayer. In other years, that number has averaged about half. And this, too, could be a direct consequence of the new law.
But regardless of how your own bottom line turned out this year, there are some broader questions to consider in viewing the tax reform law, says Joseph Minarik, of the Urban Institute, a national consumer advocacy group.
"The tax reform act of 1986 was the most significant piece of tax legislation since they started collecting income tax in 1913," he told members of the American Council of Consumer Interests gathered in Chicago last month.
"Whether you liked the impact on your own bottom line, the law dealt with broad-based economic problems," Minarik said.
What we tend to forget, he says, is that income tax was instituted for the purpose of raising revenue for the government.
"That's the basic premise. But we have been using taxes to achieve other goals: home ownership, encouraging people to get health insurance, households to save, families to adopt children, businesses to buy equipment.
"The notion grew up that taxes had to do all of that in addition to funding the government.
And it got to where the incentives were the tail wagging the revenue dog," he said.
In the mid-'80s, for example, says Minarik, for every corporate dollar taken in in taxes, the government was forgiving $1.20 in business incentives. "The idea has grown up that the tax system is a game, and those who don't pay less than others in the same income bracket lose the game."
And, he says, people were doing things that might not make sense in their overall financial picture simply to gain tax advantages.
The new law gets back to the idea that people who earn the same amounts should pay the same taxes.
We may have to wait awhile to see just how well it all works. "But one of the most positive things to come out is that it shows Congress' willingness to deal with measures that are painful in the short run, but beneficial in the long run," Minarik said. "And those are the painful decisions that will need to be made to reduce the federal deficit."