Last week, reports came out that fewer people were filing their taxes than had at the same point of calendar year 2016. Bloomberg released an article that theorized taxpayer confusion was one of the reasons for this. Although the current political climate makes that more likely this year than others, it is not like taxes made sense to everyone in past years.
Talk of tax plans, health care, tax reform and repeal and replace, though, is making many wonder more about how everything is going to shake out and what our tax pictures will look like next year (and this includes myself and my associates). Your responsibilities this year are set, though, so if you have been putting off filing, it is time to start moving on that, especially as our calendar tends to fill up fast time of year.
No matter how things fall in the future, though, it would involve a serious revamping to make the tax code something that is easy to understand. This is why one hears so much rhetoric about just how large and unwieldy our country’s tax code is.
So with all this talk of reform, just how big is that code?
Some of the biggest and most recent work on this subject appears to have been done by the Washington Examiner at the end of last tax season. It uses numbers from Dutch-based Wolters Kluwer to say the code has expanded from 400 pages in 1913 to over 74,000 in 2014, and that includes a jump from a number of just over 60,000 pages in 2004.
The only problem is that this isn’t really the right number.
First of all, the tax code should be something that you can actually have and access, no? Well maybe not you, but someone (let’s say your trusted neighborhood tax professional), should have access to it and have it be something that is actually useable. 70,000 pages would not fit within it, as I cannot even quite imagine just what a 70,000 book (or series of books) would look like. Think about it, that would be 70 volumes of 1,000 pages each, which is simply ridiculous.
Instead, read this quote from Andrew Grossman in a 2014 article on slate.com about this topic:
So, how long is it? In the 2013 edition, the last page is numbered 4,037. Now, that’s not exactly right either, for two reasons: The book starts at page 100, and then skips 500 pages in its numbering (don’t ask me why), and this volume (like all other volumes I’ve ever seen) contains both the present-day tax laws and prior versions of the tax law. That is because tax lawyers like me often find it useful to refer to prior versions of the law. But the compilation of those old laws isn’t really the “tax code”—it’s just a resource for lawyers. I’d estimate that the old law takes up about 800 pages. So let’s say the tax code is about 2,600 pages long. It’s like 2½ times the length of Stephen King’s It—except you replace “scary clown” with “accounting methods.”
Now that sounds much more reasonable, and Grossman even goes on to try to figure out where the 70,000 number comes from. He finds that it began with equating the “CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter,” with the US tax code. And although that tome does contain the tax code, it also includes history, commentary, regulations, etc. on tax law in general.
This still does not mean that understanding the tax code is easy, but it’s not as wildly complicated as some would have us believe, and that is worth knowing. It is also worth knowing someone who understands the code no matter its size, so if you still have questions or needs for your 2016 return, don’t hesitate to contact me. I remain available to assist you at any time.