IRS Official Welcomes Recommendations From Students
May. 13, 1988
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The man in charge of federal tax forms said Friday he is taking to heart suggestions by college students on how to remove some of the complexity and confusion from tax instructions.
''We intend to look at the result of their wrestling with the instructions, of our wrestling, and then use the best of both,'' Arthur Altman said after hearing students from the University of Akron spell out how they think the instructions should be changed.
''It's a friendly effort,'' Altman, assistant director of forms and publications for the IRS, said of the exercise. ''There's going to be good come out of it.''
''The 1040EZ and the 1040A should be a lot easier and understandable come next January,'' said Nicholas Creme, director of the university's Center for Taxation Studies and overseer of the project.
Students at the center, who work with low-income taxpayers who have problems with the IRS, accepted a challenge earlier this year to prove their argument that tax forms and instructions can be made less complex. They were spurred by a study showing that more than half of Americans cannot understand the indstructions for the simplest tax form, the 1040EZ.
They tackled first the instructions for the 1040EZ and the 1040A. By July 1 they hope to complete their version of those two tax forms. A longer-range project is to rewrite thousands of pages of tax regulations and publications that are used by lawyers and other tax professionals.
Altman met with leaders of the effort for more than an hour Friday. ''It's a terrific experience to work with folks outside our organization and give them an opportunity to stand in our shoes,'' Altman said after the session. ''We appreciate an outsider's look and another view.''
John Nye, an Akron law student, praised the IRS for its interest in the effort. ''Many people don't realize the problems of taking new tax laws and converting them into readable instructions,'' he said. ''We're interested in getting a real good product for the taxpayers.''
Mary Ray, a Carnegie-Mellon University graduate student who is serving as design consultant for the project, called it ''the type of work we live for - to take a document and see what it really means, what the people really need to know.''
The bulk of the suggestions for cleaning up the tax instructions dealt with format and layout. One of the key suggestions was that a final checklist be included in the instructions, since the IRS acknowledges that most penalties are imposed because of mathematical errors. They recommended that the instructions be written alongside the tax forms.
The students also urged that the tone of the instructions be made more friendly, by generous use of the word ''please.'' They called for elimination of most of the multi-syllable words and of double and triple negatives.
As an example of how the wording can be cleaned up, the students pointed to a sentence in the instructions aimed at taxpayers who don't get home-delivered mail.
The instructions now read: ''If your post office does not deliver mail to your street address and you have a post office box, enter your post office box number on the line for your personal home address instead of your street address.''
The students' suggestion: ''If your mail is not delivered to your home, and you have a post office box number, put that number in the place of your street address.''
-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.