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IRS Says It Welcomes Suggestions From Students

May 14, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Internal Revenue Service is promising that next year’s tax returns will be a little easier to understand, thanks in part to a handful of college students.

The students, working through the University of Akron’s Center for Taxation Studies, told a Senate subcommittee earlier this year that tax forms and the instructions for filling them out can be made simpler. They took their recommendations to the IRS Friday and the IRS was impressed.

″We intend to look at the result of their wrestling with the instructions, of our wrestling, and then use the best of both,″ said Arthur Altman, chairman of the agency’s forms committee.

″It’s a friendly effort,″ he added. ″There’s going to be good come out of it.″

Nicholas Creme, director of the taxation center in northeast Ohio, agreed. ″The 1040EZ and the 1040A should be a lot easier and understandable come next January,″ he said.

Students at the center, who help low-income taxpayers facing IRS penalties, were spurred on by a study showing that more than half of Americans cannot understand the instructions for the simplest tax form, the 1040EZ.

They tackled first the instructions for the 1040EZ and the 1040A, and presented these recommendations Friday. By July 1 they hope to complete their proposed revisions of those two tax forms. Later, they want to rewrite thusands of pages of tax regulations and publications that are used by lawyers and other tax professionals.

Altman and leaders of the student effort met 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. He acknowledged, however, that ″We still have a long way to go.″

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. Another urged that the instructions be written alongside the tax forms; another called for fewer words and more white space on each page.

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 multisyllable 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.″

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