It seems like no one can avoid trouble with their taxes. Even politicians constantly seem to have tax problems - even the ones who focus on financial laws. In 2008, Timothy Geithner was nominated for Secretary of the Treasury. His nomination was successful, but not until after it was discovered that this trained economist and monetary expert had underpaid his taxes in the previous decade by $34,000. The mistakes were attributable to Geithner's misunderstandings about his own tax status and it's understandable: the U.S. tax code is so complicated that even an advanced degree won't guarantee that you can understand it.

Barriers to Change
Why won't Congress do something to simplify the tax code? It's one of the few tax issues that everyone, across party lines, seems to agree on. But instead of reducing the complexity of the tax code, it seems like Congress only creates more loopholes and regulations. It's rare that a politician makes simplifying tax law a priority; for someone running for election, it's easier to campaign on a promise to give tax breaks than on anything else.

The Impact of a Complicated Tax Code
When the elections are over and a politician moves into Congress, it's easier to pass new laws to modify old tax provisions so that those regulations have a more precise impact. It's also common for new legislation to be written without a clear idea of how it will impact the existing tax code, leaving the IRS to sort out how to enforce conflicting regulations. When you add in the different provisions and changes with expiration dates, it's amazing that more taxpayers aren't in trouble for filing their taxes incorrectly. Of course, all of the different deductions make it easier to cheat on one's taxes. For the most recent year that the IRS has data for (2006), an estimated $385 billion is essentially missing. The IRS collected 86% of what should be owed in federal taxes in 2006 and it's unclear how much of that shortfall is attributable to taxpayers actively cheating on their taxes and how much to taxpayers who just didn't complete their tax returns correctly.
The claims that special interests lobby for tax deductions and other breaks, making the tax code more complicated, have some truth behind them. But many of the most complicated tax deductions and the most wasteful were created with the best of intentions. The tax code currently includes more than 20 different types of tax-advantaged savings accounts for higher education, plus even more incentives. Each of these accounts has its own limitations, eligibility requirements and other regulations, adding pages to the tax code. Trying to reduce the number of ways the government helps students go to college is not a move that most politicians want to make.

Why It Needs to Change
There are plenty of arguments in favor of simplifying the tax code: not only do all the deductions and loopholes mean that the IRS needs a large budget of its own to keep track of all the details, but economists suggest that tax cuts and tax reductions don't help the economy. The home mortgage deduction, for instance, is supposed to drive the purchases of new homes. But the numbers suggest that only taxpayers who were likely to purchase a home make use of it, and they do so to take on bigger mortgages than they might have been able to afford without the deduction. Overall, the tax code's complexity is leading to lower tax revenues for the government, making it harder to fund programs that have been proven to offer a positive impact.

See: The Most Controversial Tax Deductions.

The Bottom Line
But the reality is that making the tax code easier to understand will be an incredibly tough sell in Congress. For decades, taxes have been the main tool by which the federal government has encouraged the general population to take one action or another. Simplifying the tax code would require Congress to change its underlying methods of governing. It's not just a question of rewriting the tax code more concisely.

Related Articles
  1. Economics

    How Bernie Sanders Has Avoided Big Money (Mostly)

    Bernie Sanders hasn't entirely avoided PACs with his fundraising, but he has gotten a lot of bang for the buck
  2. Investing News

    Hillary Clinton's Liberal Orthodoxy

    Clinton's economic agenda laid out in July is divided into three broad groups: strong growth, fair growth and long-term growth. And her overarching goal is to "give working families a raise."
  3. Investing News

    Bernie Sanders: Socialist or Liberal?

    Sanders' pitch centers on economic inequality in the U.S., which is both more severe than it is in other developed countries and, if current trends continue, projected to worsen.
  4. Investing News

    Obama Wants to Double Wall Street Regulation

    President Obama wants to double the budgets of the SEC and the CFTC over the next five years.
  5. Economics

    Does Big Money Hurt or Help Clinton and Rubio?

    Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton lead their parties in raising money from Wall Street. Is that a help or a hindrance?
  6. Fundamental Analysis

    The Evolution of Obamacare Since Its Inception

    Find out whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has lived up to its lofty projections from 2010.
  7. Investing News

    Obama Floats $10 a Barrel Oil Tax

    President Obama intends to propose a $10 a barrel tax on oil; consumers might have to cough up 25 cents more per gallon.
  8. Investing News

    Chipotle Served with Criminal Probe

    Chipotle's beat muted expectations and got a clear bill from the CDC, but it now appears that an investigation into its E.coli breakout has expanded.
  9. Stock Analysis

    China Mobile: Just How Big is It? (CHL, CHU, CHA)

    The story behind China Mobile, the biggest company you might never have heard of.
  10. Markets

    The (Expected) Market Impact of the 2016 Election

    With primary season upon us, investor attention is beginning to turn to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
RELATED FAQS
  1. How Long Should I Keep My Tax Records?

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has some hard and fast rules regarding how long taxpayers should keep their tax records. As ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Are personal loans tax deductible?

    Interest paid on personal loans is not tax deductible. If you take out a loan to buy a car for personal use or to cover other ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Does a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cover braces?

    Funds from a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can be used to cover costs associated with installing, maintaining and removing ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does QVC charge sales tax?

    QVC, an American TV network, is registered with states to collect sales or use tax on taxable items. QVC is also required ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Does a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cover glasses?

    The funds in a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can be used to cover most common medical expenses; this includes the cost ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Are tax brackets adjusted for inflation?

    Each year, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) adjusts tax brackets for changes in the cost of living to calculate federal ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center