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Ohio Students Says IRS Should Cut Jargon And Say Please More Often

May 13, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Internal Revenue Service is about to get some free advice from a group of college students on how to reduce the confusion and unpleasantness that go hand in hand with paying federal income taxes.

Some highlights: Give the taxpayer a simple checklist in the tax-form instructions as a final guard against errors. Get rid of the jawbreaking words. And please use the word ″please″ more often.

Twenty students at The University of Akron’s Center for Taxation Studies accepted a challenge earlier this year to prove their argument that tax forms and printed instructions can be made simpler.

The students planned to present an interim report to the IRS today, spelling out how they think instructions for Form 1040 and Form 1040A should read.

″Our revision of the instructions maes filing taxes easier,″ said Nicholas Creme, director of the university’s tax center and an overseer of the project. ″It also is designed to generate patriotism and positive feelings about the concept of federal taxation by gently reminding taxpayers that it’s the American thing to do.″

Part of that good feeling would be generated, presumably, by replacing the drab cover page of the instructions with a full-color U.S. map pointing out such landmarks as the Grand Canyon and New York City.

The project grew out of an appearance last March before a Senate Finance subcommittee by Creme and several tax-center students, who testified about problems encountered while helping low-income taxpayers who had been penalized by the IRS.

During that testimony, the students cited a readability study that found more than half of Americans cannot understand the instructions for the simplest tax form, the single-page Form 1040EZ. Only 11 percent of people with less than a high school education can understand the instructions, the law center says.

The students assured the subcommittee they could do better. They hope to have their revisions of the 1040 and 1040A forms completed before July, but for the moment they offer these suggestions to the IRS for cleaning up the instructions:

-Place step-by-step directions alongside the tax forms. The 1987 instructions were spread throughout the instruction booklet.

-Reorganize the instructions so that taxpayers don’t have to read the entire booklet to see which parts of the form they have to use.

-Leave 20 percent more white space and use bold-face type more often to improve readability.

-Use simple definitions for technical terms.

-Include samples of completed forms in the instruction booklets.

-List on the first page a toll-free telephone number that taxpayers can call for assistance.

-Since most IRS penalties result from mathematical errors, include in the instructions a final checklist that the taxpayer can use just before mailing the completed return.

-Get rid of multisyllable words and double and triple negatives.

-Make ″frequent use of the word ‘please’ to present a friendly tone.″

″Almost anyone you talk to - even accountants - will tell you they had difficulty filing their taxes this year,″ said Creme. ″Now the IRS says it is committed to substantially improving tax forms for 1988 and we are pleased that we are able to provide them with suggestions.″

Once the students revise the instructions and the tax forms, they will turn their attention to an even more awesome project: simplifying volumes of IRS regulations and publications that tax professionals must consult in dealing with clients.

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