Yes, billion. That’s 6,000,000,000—nine zeros. The equivalent to three million people working full-time, year-round, as the AP points point. And it’s all because of our extremely complicated and constantly changing tax code.
A new report from Nina E. Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate (yes, we have one of those) ranks the complexity of our tax laws as the most serious problem facing taxpayers and the IRS, according to a story in the AP today. The findings of this report help build the case for Congress to overhaul the tax code for the first time since 1986, make it more simple and easier to follow (there are no plans for an overhaul currently in place).
The report states that nearly 60% of individuals will hire a tax preparer, while another 30% use commercial software. That means a mere 10% tackle their taxes on their own. And with good reason: In order to truly understand the tax code—which has been changed almost 5,000 times since 2001—and legally take advantage of all the breaks, expert help is essentially required.
As Olson told the AP: “On the one hand, taxpayers who honestly seek to comply with the law often make inadvertent errors, causing them to either overpay their tax or become subject to IRS enforcement action for mistaken underpayments. On the other hand, sophisticated taxpayers often find loopholes that enable them to reduce or eliminate their tax liabilities.”
If a taxpaying entity knows how to file correctly, they can take an advantage of a variety of loopholes and provisions. In fact, this year, taxpayers will save about $1.1 trillion through tax breaks, which the AP says is about equal to how much individuals will pay.
But while lawmakers agree that this is a real problem—that outsized tax breaks must be reduced in order to lower income rates across the board—there are varying opinions of how specifically to do it.
As Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House and Ways and Means Committee—the top tax writer in the house—told the AP, “Our broken tax code has become a nightmare of loopholes and special interest provisions that create added complexities and costs for hardworking taxpayers and small businesses.”
While many politicians discuss tax reform without getting into specifics, opting instead for phrases like “closing special interest loopholes,” Olson says the reality is that these aren’t going to make a big difference. The three biggest tax breaks according to congressional estimates are the lack of individual taxation on employer-provided health benefits, contributions to retirement plans, and the mortgage interest deduction. Combined, they’re expected to save people nearly $450 million. These, she says, are what tax reform needs to go after.