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Open Source Federal Income Tax Software

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the taxman-meets-penguin dept.

Software 227

niiler writes "There is finally a usable US federal income tax program for Linux users who don't wish to file online. TaxGeek is a Mozilla-based US income tax program that includes Form 1040, Schedules A, B, C, C-EZ, D, E, K-1 (1065), SE (Short and Long), W2, Forms 8880, 8853, 8863, 8812, 5695, 4952,3903, 2106, 2106ez, 2441 with access to most other files as PDFs. It is intended to be extensible so that developers can easily add other forms that are needed without affecting the existing file formats and stored data. TaxGeek will also create PDFs of all the supported forms so that you can print them and send them in to the IRS. (PDF creation support requires the installation of Perl PDF::Reuse.) At this point, e-filing is not supported."

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Taxes are for Suckers (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18300798)

Who still pays taxes? Posted anonymously because I'm not a moron.

Re:Taxes are for Suckers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18300816)

Yes you are.

Re:Taxes are for Suckers (1)

IPFreely (47576) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300852)

He's just a little moron.

Re:Taxes are for Suckers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301110)

So I take it you two are suckers?

Re:Taxes are for Suckers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301302)

I'm an octopus.

Nice Disclaimer (3, Informative)

dduardo (592868) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300832)

ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES ARE OFFERED. If you have a ton of money riding on finding all the right loopholes and getting everything 100% perfect, buy a tax program or use an accountant.

You get to be the beta tester! (2, Funny)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300858)

News from their website page:

2007-03-08 TaxGeek06d, a major release with *numerous* bug fixes, more extensive testing based on the IRS PATS (Participants Acceptance TeSting) test input suite, improvements to the user interface, and more supported forms, has been released. Several additional forms have been introduced as well.

Please every one use this software this year so all the bugs get found and I can use it next year! 03/08 is a bit close to 4/15 for me to be worrying about bugs!

Re:You get to be the beta tester! (4, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300918)

While I don't want the refund check dependent on a beta, I am going to run both Tax Cut and TaxGeek06d to see how they compare....

Re:You get to be the beta tester! (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301530)

It would be great if you were to put a generalization of your results and let us know.

Re:You get to be the beta tester! (2, Informative)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301294)

If you're poor enough that you need to use free software to prepare your taxes (up to $52,000 AGI) then you can just use any of the IRS's FreeFile [irs.gov] online participant companies. If you make more than that then you need to stop whining and just go buy Turbotax or Taxcut or use one of their online web sites if they don't support your choice of fringe desktop operating systems. Turbotax online should work fine in Mozilla on any platform. If you have State Farm insurance there is even a "free tax filing" link once you login to the State Farm web site get free Online Turbotax Basic or Deluxe or $20 Premier with free electronic filing of federal and state returns.

If neither the Freefile program or Turbotax/Taxcut software or their online versions fit your tax filing needs Mr. Moneybags then you just need to go talk to your private accountant like the rest of the rich people and leave the bottom 95% of us to our drudgery. ;-)

Re:You get to be the beta tester! (1)

SkyDude (919251) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301376)

2007-03-08 TaxGeek06d, a major release with *numerous* bug fixes, more extensive testing based on the IRS PATS (Participants Acceptance TeSting) test input suite, improvements to the user interface, and more supported forms, has been released. Several additional forms have been introduced as well.

TurboTax and Taxcut, the two apps with the largest combined user base, have both had significant "bugs" since their inception. They do provide a mechanism for updates each time the app starts up and these are from established publishers.

While I like open source apps, this is one I'm passing on. I admit, tax stuff makes my eyes glaze over, but the big guys have had a lot of years to get it right and I'd prefer not to be a beta tester where the IRS is involved. That's a battle I'd rather not have to fight.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (4, Insightful)

canuck57 (662392) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300950)

ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES ARE OFFERED. If you have a ton of money riding on finding all the right loopholes and getting everything 100% perfect, buy a tax program or use an accountant.

Ask your accountant for his guarantee. I don't think it is any different. But the benefit in seeing an accountant is they have memorized the loop holes you can tap into.

But at least with this event, those commercial tax packages better get a Linux version or lose market share. Not everyones tax is complicated enough to need an accountant.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

insignificant1 (872511) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301042)

The tax preparer gets his/her OWN line on the tax form that he/she signs. So there IS some accountability. Not sure about TurboTax or whatnot. But if someone prepares your taxes for you, they will be held responsible in some manner by the government, whether or not they want to be held responsible, once they sign on the line. Check out the 1040 form on the IRS.gov website if you want to see for yourself.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (3, Interesting)

hawaiian717 (559933) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301178)

TurboTax fills in that line with "Self-prepared".

Re:Nice Disclaimer (3, Informative)

Hollinger (16202) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301048)

Well, not really. Web applications are generally cross-platform. Have you tried www.hrblock.com? I've used since 2004. The site works in firefox, it includes e-filing, and paying by check or credit card.

How would a bad linux version translate to a loss of market share when you have web apps that will work just as easily?

Re:Nice Disclaimer (2, Interesting)

thrawn_aj (1073100) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301318)

Mod parent +1 insightful.

What you want in a tax software package is functionality. However, an equally important thing is liability. If this OSS burps and does something wrong, I doubt the IRS is gonna listen to your "dog-ate-my-homework" kind of excuse. However, if you do use a package from the list of supported software on the IRS website http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=118986,00.h tml [irs.gov] (chances are, you can find a free one that can e-file for your income level quite easily), at least you're in a position to defend yourself if the thing chokes. If a Linux package is not available at the moment, I'm sure it will be soon. In the meantime though, I would humbly suggest that techies NOT gamble their taxes on this issue :P and seek out a windows machine (wearing a crucifix of course =D). The local library might be a good place. You can always get drunk after and not remember any of it =D.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301618)

I always like to type my CC SS numbers into public access terminals. Especially ones that run windows. It is certainly safer to do that than to trust an open source program.

note: I think both using a public terminal and a brand new software package (closed or open source) is crazy, but between the two choices I would take the software, and in a few years I may use the software, but never a public terminal.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301336)

Ask your accountant for his guarantee. I don't think it is any different. But the benefit in seeing an accountant is they have memorized the loop holes you can tap into.
I can't even understand where someone would need to talk to an accountant unless you've done some pretty fucked up stuff during the year. For the vast majority of us Turbotax has every possible scenario we'd ever encounter. I used to be able to just use the 1040EZ equivalent until I bought a house, but the I had the mortgage interest deducation and property tax deductions that started adding up to more than the standard deduction so it switched to 1040. Still, all the scenarios of my life were included in there. When I had a child there were options for child tax credits and dependent deductions, child care credits, and so on. There are places to put the small amount of interest we get from our bank and the dividend income my wife gets from her small stock holdings in the local electric company, etc. What the heck are people doing that they'd need to see an accountant? Shady stuff like trying to hide income? Do you have multiple small time jobs that may or may not have paid income taxes? For me, I just type in the numbers from my W-2 and my wife's W-2 and we're done.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

Linux_ho (205887) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301496)

It starts getting more complex when you have a wide variety of investment income sources.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

cheebie (459397) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301506)

I can't even understand where someone would need to talk to an accountant unless you've done some pretty fucked up stuff during the year.

My mother-in-law is a tax accountant, and you would not believe some of the weird stuff she has to deal with. People can mess up their finances to an amazing degree. She breathes a sigh of relief when we bring in our forms/receipts and she breezes through the whole thing in 10 minutes.

Oh, and she DOES offer a guarantee. If she messes up your taxes, she paysthe fine. You still have to pay the taxes, but she will cover the penalties.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (2, Insightful)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301534)

I like Linux as much as most of Slashdot, but do you *really* think that not having a Linux version of tax software will cause any appreciable loss of market share for the mainstream tax software providers? If you do it's time to take the rose colored glasses off!

Re:Nice Disclaimer (3, Insightful)

bfields (66644) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300990)

For those of us who still do our taxes by hand, it wouldn't really be any riskier, and might not be any more trouble, just to run through the software once, check it by hand, and send in bug reports.

Not mentioned in the summary: this is free software (under the GPL).

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301028)

For those of us who still do our taxes by hand, it wouldn't really be any riskier, and might not be any more trouble, just to run through the software once, check it by hand, and send in bug reports.

This isn't a troll but a simple question. Why are you still doing your taxes by hand? Isn't it worth the $38 to buy TurboTax or TaxCut and have it whip through your taxes in 25 minutes?

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

xanadu-xtroot.com (450073) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301050)

Isn't it worth the $38 to buy TurboTax or TaxCut

Not if I have to drop that $40 to find out that I'm only getting $100 or so back.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

Bastard of Subhumani (827601) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301282)

Not if I have to drop that $40 to find out that I'm only getting $100 or so back.
I'm not an accountant. But doesn't that still leave you [takes shoes off] 60 bucks better off?

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301284)

How would you feel if you dropped $40 to find out that you owed $100?

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

SkyDude (919251) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301392)

Isn't it worth the $38 to buy TurboTax or TaxCut

Not if I have to drop that $40 to find out that I'm only getting $100 or so back.

but you get to write off the $40 as "Tax prep fees".

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

patiodragon (920102) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301106)

"This isn't a troll but a simple question. Why are you still doing your taxes by hand?"

Here is another simple answer. I am an independent small businessman. It would take more time to learn a tax program than it does to enter all the data on the form. I still have to figure out how much money I spent on my vehicle, etc., no matter what the method is and my computer doesn't know the values. I don't see a benefit to it all at all.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

bfields (66644) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301226)

Why are you still doing your taxes by hand? Isn't it worth the $38 to buy TurboTax or TaxCut and have it whip through your taxes in 25 minutes?
  • It takes me more than 25 minutes just to dig up all the numbers I need, so I assume you're just counting the time required to work through the forms themselves. I'll admit that takes me longer (maybe over an hour), but it's not necessarily the biggest part.
  • I don't have any Windows or OSX machines. I suppose I could borrow one from someone else, but it hasn't seemed worth it.
  • Normally I use free software for literally everything. Every now and then I'll have to deal with proprietary stuff at my parents' place or whatever, and I'm reminded of why I don't miss it.

I also don't (yet) have a mortage or kids, I'm not self-employed, etc.--but my taxes get a little complicated each year, and I could see there might come a point when it would be useful to have more help.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (4, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300992)

ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES ARE OFFERED. If you have a ton of money riding on finding all the right loopholes and getting everything 100% perfect, buy a tax program or use an accountant.

Honestly, that's the same guarantee you you get with a commercial tax program or from an accountant. The difference is that the accountant, and to a lesser extent the commercial software, will probably do a better job. Probably. But if you miss out on big deductions you should have taken, or, even worse, if the program or accountant tells you to take some deductions that land you in hot water, it's all on you. Your taxes are your responsibility, period.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (3, Informative)

insignificant1 (872511) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301062)

"Honestly"? who is being honest? Who hasn't checked the 1040 form recently? The tax preparer gets his/her OWN line on the tax form that he/she signs. So there IS accountability for the preparer, if he/she does things incorrectly. There is no guarantee that you get all the best loopholes (though some DO guarantee this) with an accountant, but the IRS likely has never convicted anyone of paying too much in taxes.

I have posted this comment to other posters who don't know how taxes work (are you still a dependent?). Not sure about TurboTax or whatnot. But if someone prepares your taxes for you, they will be held responsible in some manner by the government, whether or not they want to be held responsible, once they sign on the line. Check out the 1040 form on the IRS.gov website if you want to see for yourself.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301458)

are you still a dependent?

No need to be insulting, especially when you could have answered this question yourself by looking at my profile.

But if someone prepares your taxes for you, they will be held responsible in some manner by the government, whether or not they want to be held responsible, once they sign on the line.

The preparer will be held responsible for fraud he or she commits, yes, but that will not get you, the taxpayer, off the hook. From the IRS [irs.gov] web site:

In some situations, the client (taxpayer) may not have knowledge of the false expenses, deductions, exemptions and/or credits shown on their tax returns. However, when the IRS detects the false return, the taxpayer must pay the additional taxes and interest and may be subject to penalties and criminal prosecution.

Other important tidbits from the same page:

  • Review your return before you sign it and ask questions on entries you don't understand.
  • No matter who prepares your tax return, you (the taxpayer) are ultimately responsible for all of the information on your tax return.

If there is serious fraud on your return, you will pay penalties and may even do jail time, even if a CPA's signature is on the "tax preparer" line.

"Honestly"?

Honestly.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301144)

Honestly, that's the same guarantee you you get with a commercial tax program or from an accountant.

Intuit warrants TurboTax for calculation errors, but that's all. You also can pay extra for a professional to review your return and make recommendations, but as you note, there's no guarantee they will catch everything.

You can also pre-pay for representation if you get audited. I suspect that's a high-profit item for them -- kinda like the extended warranty offered by the big-box electronics stores.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

chaoticgeek (874438) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301186)

I'll just have my mom do them, she works at H&R block anyways so I get them done for free each year.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (2, Funny)

Bastard of Subhumani (827601) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301298)

I wish all I had to do was walk upstairs.

Re:Nice Disclaimer (1)

troll -1 (956834) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301250)

ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES ARE OFFERED. If you have a ton of money riding on finding all the right loopholes and getting everything 100% perfect, buy a tax program or use an accountant.

I think you'll find commercial programs also come with a similar disclaimer, although worded in more convoluted legalese. Usually if there's a bug in the software the fine print prevents you from any recourse against the manufacturer.

A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

Tokimasa (1011677) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300844)

I'm all for open-source software, but not against closed-source. We need more open source programs to compete with closed source programs. Perhaps even government endorsement of this.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (5, Informative)

darthpenguin (206566) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300920)

Government support is unlikely, according to this excerpt from the FAQ:
-----
6. Why can't I e-file with this program?

Because of the lack of cooperation of the IRS and the API. When I wrote to the IRS regarding this, I received the following reply:

Thank you for your inquiry.

The government believes that private industry, given its established expertise and experience in the field of electronic tax preparation, has a proven track record in providing the best technology and services available. In addition, the government believes a partnership with private industry will: provide taxpayers with higher quality services by using the existing expertise of the private sector; maximize consumer choice; promote competition within the marketplace; and meet objectives in the least costly manner to taxpayers.

We hope the above information will prove helpful to you.

Sincerely,
The IRS Website Support Team


I suspect that there will either need to be an outcry, or we will need to present this project as a corporation of sorts for cooperation from the IRS. For more info, see the previous FAQ entry.
-----

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

Tokimasa (1011677) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300984)

This is still new. From what I've heard, the government is starting to embrace open source software. In a few years, I hope things like this become mainstream.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (2, Insightful)

Ayal.Rosenthal (1070472) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301182)

I admire your optimism. However, I don't think that the government will embrace open-source software because the IRS doesn't make any of its own decisions - lobbysits do. For example, the IRS is asking tax lawyers and accountants who create tax shelters and exploit loopholes to take the lead in writing some of its new tax rules. Similarly, the IRS asks companies who generate sales through IRS software to help decide best practices. Open source will likely be better in a couple of years than anything than other products on the market, but the government probably still won't support it. Regards, Ayal Rosenthal

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

TheSkyIsPurple (901118) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301162)

I think the existing Tax Code is so complicated and hard to read that it takes seriously dedicated people to sort through it all.
Then you have to have another sort of dedicated folks to convert that into software that an end user can run.

Why not change the documentation standard? Take the Tax Code at its name? It's code damnit.

Rather than document the Tax Code in legal terms, why not document it in some sort of programming language.

It would be just as (un)ambiguous, but will be direrctly functional, so you remove an entire layer of translation.

The tax programmers can develop/maintain/publish the official logic code, and anyone can build a UI they like for it. Whenever the program runs, it should check the code repository for any updates and apply them, etc...

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

Vireo (190514) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301184)

The situation is in fact ridiculous. You now have two choices to submit your tax report: by snail mail, which is free. Or electronically, which requires you to buy an accredited program in order to generate the e-forms, thus excluding any open source software.

Given the resources at the disposal of the Government, why couldn't they just build a website similar to the ones online tax programs use for data entry and obvious computations (adding columns, tax brackets, etc.). I don't care if the results are not automatically optimized, but at least, you could *fill* the tax forms online and submit the e-forms without the fees required by proprietary programs. IMHO, that should be a basic IRS service. Of course it would mean a well-rounded one-time investment, but the following years, only minor adjustment would be needed.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301310)

It's worse than that. You don't just need to buy a program to e-file; you need to go through an e-file service provider, which usually costs extra.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301558)

as it happens if you are the cheap type some e-file sites are not to bad it cost me all of US$60 for

1 fed and state prep
2 fed and state e-file
3 sanity check (not including we pick up the tab if you get audited thing)
4 bounce through account (i had them take my fee out of the return)

and all of this took about 2 weeks

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301350)

the state of California got sued by H&R block for providing such a tool. It now no longer exists.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

voidptr (609) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301382)

Because that would threaten the business model TurboTax and H&R Block have. Buying enough senators and representatives to lock that market isn't cheap you know.

FreeFile; Public vs. Private (3, Interesting)

Noksagt (69097) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301404)

by snail mail, which is free.

Sign me up for whatever free postage system you have. Especially if it comes with delivery confirmation, etc. that the conscientious will purchase.

Or electronically, which requires you to buy an accredited program in order to generate the e-forms
70% of taxpayers qualify for free file [irs.gov] , which allows them to e-file after using free (as in beer) online tax software. Yes, this percentage should be higher. Yes, anyone should be permitted to create tax preparation software, including open source software, which could e-file. But, it is hardly extortion.

Given the resources at the disposal of the Government, why couldn't they just build a website similar to the ones online tax programs use for data entry and obvious computations (adding columns, tax brackets, etc.). I don't care if the results are not automatically optimized, but at least, you could *fill* the tax forms online and submit the e-forms without the fees required by proprietary programs. IMHO, that should be a basic IRS service.
I actually agree with the IRS--tax software should be in the private sector, not the public sector (government monopolies suck). But there's no reason not to open this up for ALL entrants, rather than granting an oligopoly.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301192)

But if enough people use it, and enough people submit paper copies of their return, causing enough pain and cost to the IRS, then they will open up an E-File capability for open source.

I have already bought a commercial package. But I will use this one, if for no other reason than to support the effort and to see how accurate it is. Who knows, it might save me a few bucks. And if the return is substantially the same as what the commercial package says, then I will likely print the return and mail it in, just to be one who "votes with my feet" and causes a little bit of pain and cost for that lousy FAQ IRS response.

I don't see what the big deal is with E-file. I mean, I like the idea of saving the government (meaning me, the tax payer) a few bucks, and save a few trees. But really, I don't need the return to be processed instantly, so mail is just as good for me. Am I missing something? I sure don't like to PAY for the right to make them efficient!

Kickbacks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301256)

Its because people working at the IRS are getting kickbacks to them privately from the companies using e-file.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

Thanster (669304) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301356)

How about a freedom of information request to release the details/specification of the API?

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

Der Reiseweltmeister (1048212) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301386)

I think someone was either confused or dangerously lazy. Thet really looks like the form letter response to "why can't I use the IRS website to e-file my taxes?" I don't think they understood the question.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301582)

Why not have someone make a commercial tax software that is open source? There's nothing to stop something from being both open source, and commercial/private sector. Just ask Redhat or Novell. I'm sure there's enough people out there that a $15 program that you download and run would be able to draw a large enough crowd.

Re:A step in the right direction, I think. (1)

skeeterbug (960559) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301644)

Thank you for your inquiry. The government believes that private industry, given its established expertise and experience in the field of electronic tax preparation, has a proven track record in providing the best technology and services available. In addition, the government believes a partnership with private industry will: provide taxpayers with higher quality services by using the existing expertise of the private sector; maximize consumer choice; promote competition within the marketplace; and meet objectives in the least costly manner to taxpayers. We hope the above information will prove helpful to you. Sincerely, The IRS Website Support Team

translated from bureaucratic speak to plain english... Thank you for your inquiry. The government is paid off by private industry, given its established expertise and experience in the field of minting money from electronic tax preparation. It also has a proven track record in providing the most bang for the congress person buck in terms of campaign contributions, junkets and all sorts of other deals we don't want you to know about (see what happened to Cunningham). In addition, the government believes a partnership with private industry will provide congress persons with higher quality of donation by charging US citizens money to redirect back to us; maximize consumer choice from those companies who bribe us regularly; promote competition within the marketplace in order to ramp up our intake of cash; and meet objectives in the least costly manner to taxpayers given that congress persons need to get paid - and paid well. no freebie tax prep with no source of income to send our way will EVER be approved by the IRS, so go away or we'll tap your phones and send the RIAA and MPAA after you. We hope the above information will prove helpful to you, it sure is helpful to us in terms of getting kickbacks - and that is why we do what we do. Sincerely, The IRS Website Support Team (hey, we don't make the rules, we just don't anger our masters, and the retirement is good) PS - a million dollars in bri... errr, campaign donations will get what you want... otherwise, get lost.

I use Linux because I'm cheap (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18300848)

I use P2P to download everything. Programs, music, movies, illegal copies of Windows, etc

I would prefer not to pay any taxes at all. What's the open source answer to this problem? Does this new Linux program cheat for me?

Thanks for the information.

Re:I use Linux because I'm cheap (0, Flamebait)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300868)

So then download TurboTax and use that.. No problem here, move along.

Stupid question... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18300864)

but why don't the US use Pay As You Earn, like the UK do? Surely it's easier for everyone, including the taxman?

Re:Stupid question... (1)

JensenDied (1009293) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300966)

Oh they do, this is just their way of making sure that you payed enough depending on how much you earned that year, and sometimes they take out to much due to you not making the next tax bracket etc..
Yes, I can vouch for both.

Re:Stupid question... (4, Informative)

istartedi (132515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301014)

I've often wondered that too. I asked a Russian co-worker about it though, and he said his experience with foreign systems that only use a payroll tax, is that they are much more likely to be corrupt. Since there's a lower compliance rate, they have to have a higher tax. I don't really buy into that though. I'd much rather just have the payroll tax and be done with it, as long as I can't be held personally liable for failing to pay it. If it's just a payroll tax, then who is liable though? It can't be the person who runs payroll. Those jobs don't pay very much, and people won't run the risk of personal bankruptcy for failing to carry a decimal. If the corporation or company is liable, then it's much harder to pin blame on a person. The corporation or company just goes bankrupt, so I think my Russian co-worker had a good point.

Historicly, taxes in the US were collected from individuals. I've been told that payroll deductions, called "witholding" here, were an emergency measure adopted because they needed funds during WWII. After the war, witholding continued. Some have actually argued that we get rid of witholding due to its history as a WWII emergency measure. It also feeds into some conspiracy theories regarding the "continual state of war" in the US. Anyway, the US is, in some sense, "pay as you earn", it's just that you have to file to reconcile the difference between what you've paid and what you actually owe.

What you owe can be less due to deductions (e.g., charity, marital status, etc.). Over the years, the US has used the tax code for social engineering. Those deductions are popular, entrenched, and backed by powerful lobbies and interests who have a lot to gain from the tax code as it stands. If I had to give a one-word answer to your question it would be:

Inertia.

Re:Stupid question... (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301274)

No, up until the Civil War taxes for the(previously small) national government were mostly collected from the states. The Civil War put a huge burden on the federal government(and caused it to become much larger) and out of that income taxes were born. It took an amendment to the constitution(16th amendment) many years later while William Howard Taft was president for income taxes to be officially codified in the Constitution

wikipedia link [wikipedia.org] if you want more info.

Re:Stupid question... (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301596)

Most people are extremely bad about putting away savings, if they took away withholding, there would be a lot of people unable to pay taxes at the end of the year.

Re:Stupid question... (1)

KillerBob (217953) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301114)

AFAIK, they do. It's more a question of people who work multiple jobs (and therefore aren't removing enough tax at the source) and people who are due refunds.

If the tax system is working properly, nobody needs to file their taxes, because the government has the right balance taken off at the source. But that assumes that nobody takes unpaid leave from their work, and that you always work the same number of hours per week. Most people get refunds here in Canada.

Re:Stupid question... (1)

martyros (588782) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301154)

In the US we do pay as we earn (with some exceptions). So at the end of the year, your company sends you a little form that tells you how much you earned and how much they actually payed. Then you figure out how much you should have paid in taxes. If you paid more than you should have, they give you money back (a 'tax return'), or you have to send them money.

The tax system is an easy centralized place for the US to do things like "incentives". Have children? You get an exemption. Lose money from your farm? Donate money? Put money in a retirement account? Doing activity X, Y, or Z that we want to encourage? Take x, y, or z from the money you should have paid us. All of these things reduce the end amount that you "should" have paid.

I don't know how other countries do it, so I can't really contrast it.

Re:Stupid answer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301288)

they give you money back (a 'tax return')

It's called a refund as in refunding the excess money paid. The 'tax return' is the piece of paper you send in (or e-file).

Re:Stupid question... (1)

j79zlr (930600) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301202)

You do pay as you go, and then pay more at the end of the year, and pay when you inherit money, and pay when you purchase goods, and pay when your investments appreciate, and pay when die. If you earn enough money in the US & owe significant amounts at the end of the year, you have to pay quarterly estimated taxes as well.

Re:Stupid question... (1)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301222)

but why don't the US use Pay As You Earn, like the UK do? Surely it's easier for everyone, including the taxman?

FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes are straight payroll taxes, deducted at the source. Those are easy to compute, and only require adjustment at the end of the year if you were an employee at two different jobs and earned enough to exceed the wage limit ($94,200 last year).

There's also withholding for income taxes (both state and federal). But, there are many things that can affect your ultimate tax liability: income from investments, deductions for home mortgage interest, etc. The tax return is really just a final settlement for the tax year, with the taxpayer paying the final amount or getting a refund. Preferably the final amount is small -- if you get a refund, you don't get interest on the extra money that you gave to the government. If you owe a lot, you can potentially get hit with a penalty (subject to a few exclusions that give you a bye for the year).

Re:Stupid question... (1)

Guy Harris (3803) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301532)

but why don't the US use Pay As You Earn, like the UK do? Surely it's easier for everyone, including the taxman?

To quote the Wikipedia article on PAYE:

While not officially called "pay as you earn" the tax systems of both Canada and the USA are similar. Taxes on pay are withheld by an employer and sent directly to the government on the earner's behalf. However, due to various exemptions and deductions which exist in the tax systems of those countries, an employer can only roughly estimate an individual's total tax liability. Taxpayers are required to file an annual tax return to reconcile their total tax due. The difference will result in either a tax refund being issued or a requirement to pay additional tax.

which is pretty much what other responses said (i.e., the tax code is sufficiently complicated by various deductions and exemptions that your employer doesn't know enough to calculate your tax correctly).

On the subject of Taxes (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18300870)

What is the validity of this film [youtube.com] ?

Re:On the subject of Taxes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18300938)

Here is the full film [google.com] .

Other than Linux, why bother? (-1, Troll)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300874)

You can get the existing programs for next to nothing already, and they have experts who ensure the software is accurate and stand behind their product.

Here you have something that may or may not comply with the tax codes - and I should trust it because it is OSS?

If there are experts who are working on this I'd wonder about the legal advice they get - despite the disclaimer they could wind up being sued because of an error. As experts they can be held to a higher standard of care and you can't disclaim negligence, at least not in the US, as I understand the law (ANAL).

Nice idea but unless all you want is to be able to print forms it's not worth teh risk - besides aren't there free web based packages already?

Re:Other than Linux, why bother? (1)

daeg (828071) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301058)

The free, web-based packages depend greatly upon a few things. If your income is over or under a certain threshold, you may not qualify. Some states don't qualify. Some only cater to joint filings. Some only fill out the 1040EZ equivalent. A lot of them will file your federal taxes for free, but not file state unless you pay.

I used the free ones for a few years, and now I get close to 100-150 messages per week from Turbo Tax, H&R Block, etc. I think by next year they will outpace Viagra ads, at least for January through April.

Re:Other than Linux, why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301308)

This year I actually used an online tax program. I was directed there by the irs.gov site. I decided on the H&R Block site as it stated it would do both my Federal and State taxes. I completed the Federal portion and submitted it (it matched what I had figured up manually). When I went to file my State, I was informed that I would have to pay $29. My State refund was listed as $24 by the tax program.

I decided it would be easier to just fill out the forms and mail it in. I went to my states (IL) website to download forms. On that website I discovered that I could file online for free with them. I went through the process and it ends up I was due $52 as my refund. They figured up an additional deduction that H&R Block did not. I verified that I qualified for it and finalized my return. I saved money and even got more money back by going through my state website. I had never known that my state did this. It was a pleasant surprise.

I filed both returns using Firefox2 on a Windows 2k machine. I did not attempt anything on my Linux machines, I did not even think of there possibly being problems, although I should have. I have already received my refunds. My state was received within 7 days, usually they take two months or more. My Federal was listed as being two weeks, with a "check my refund" date of Feb 24th or so. It was not available yet. I rechecked the site and it was March 7th. It was deposited on March 3rd. So within a month, I received both of my refunds, and I had a decent experience of doing my taxes online. It was a straight 1040 (not A or EZ) form, no schedules or anything extra.

Until I have more adjustments that need to be done and that will require me to expand beyond a 1040 form, I think I will stick with the online model, as long as they do not break it in Firefox. And so far, a month later, I have not noticed any spam messages in my inbox related to tax programs. We will see what happens next year when tax time rolls around.

US federal income tax is a fraud! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18300880)

US federal income tax is a fraud!
Abolish the Federal Reserve Bank!
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-431273027 7175242198 [google.com]

A good year for open source and taxes... (4, Interesting)

passion4 (1069666) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300888)

So far this has been a great year for open source and taxes in general it seems.

This company [timetrex.com] also released there entire Payroll, Time and Attendance [timetrex.com] suite as open source. So employers like myself can pay their employees and easily take care of all their payroll related taxes such as W2/W3's, 940/941's, 1099's and state taxes for free.

When we talk open source... (2, Insightful)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18300932)

On open source, we talk on how we can defer judgment and help from one corporation to anybody we wish. Using MS products means we're at the mercy of MS for proper fixes.

Using an open source kit gives us the ability to find whomever we need to fix it, and not the ordained "fixer". This isnt a slam at MS, but instead is towards the whole proprietary software community.

However, when it comes to taxes and associated penalties, having a company to blame is one of the best recourses one can have. Of course, the IRS can do whatever the hell they want for taxes, but suing the preparer for incompetence is of the utmost importance. Lesser yet, are companies who offer guarantees on their fitness of returns.

I wouldnt trade the ability to point fingers for "free software".

Re:When we talk open source... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301034)

You can only sue a tax preparer for the price you were charged. The IRS holds you liable. An incorrect return is not an excuse.

Re:When we talk open source... (1)

wile_e_wonka (934864) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301416)

I think this is only an issue for people that are doing things "on the edge." For the vast majority of us, paying taxes is a pretty straightforward affair with clear black and white answers. A program just helps us do the math and make sure we put the answers in the correct boxes.

I think this relatively simple open source program is intended to serve the masses, not replace accountants.

Re:When we talk open source... (1)

orangepeel (114557) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301560)

This is why the IRS itself should be the primary and controlling developer of software like this. Still open source, yes, so that there's at least some level of transparency that every government agency ought to be providing to the ones paying their salaries. It's time the IRS entered the 21st century.

April 18 (5, Funny)

ballmerfud (1031602) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301012)

Subject : [TAX GEEK] Announce
Date: April 18, 2007

We are pleased to announce our latest update of Tax Geek, which fixes a critical off-by-one error in the previous release, which could in some cases lead to (severe) inaccuracies. Please update your current version ASAP. As always, if you find any additional errors, please submit bug reports (and preferably patches) on Source Forge, and Joe will look into when he gets home from class.

The Tax Geek Team

What the hell? (-1, Flamebait)

mnemonic_ (164550) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301040)

Isn't this utterly incongruous? Open source developers have no income, how do they have taxes?

Re:What the hell? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301130)

If you contribute code to an open source project that is a registered non-profit organisation, can you offset the value of the code against income, for tax purposes? If so, then a lot of open source developers might have a negative income, for tax purposes at least.

Re:What the hell? (1)

hpavc (129350) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301638)

I would like to see a link to a statute please for the real IRS deduction value. Otherwise you would see World of Warcraft Guild's forming Not For Profits for example.

Cool, and about time. (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301046)

This is great. I've been doing my taxes on computer since MacInTax on a Mac Plus, nice to see something becoming available for Linux. (And while I'm usually very biased toward FLOSS software, I'd even have paid for a copy of TaxCut if it were available for Linux.)

I don't need the silly "interview style" interface anyway, it's not like even the paper forms are that hard to figure out if you're willing to RTFI (instructions). (And my taxes are complicated enough that I have to include a couple of schedules and a few forms, it's not like a 1040-EZ).

The lack of e-file is no big deal to me, since I never e-file anyway.

Re:Cool, and about time. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301394)

nice to see something becoming available for Linux.
Turbotax Online works perfectly well with Linux and Firefox.

Re:Cool, and about time. (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301518)

Turbotax Online works perfectly well with Linux and Firefox.

No it doesn't. "Online" doesn't fit my definition of "perfectly", especially not with financial information. That's one reason I don't e-file.

No Warranty (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301056)

Well, lot's of folks here are making a fuss, saying these folks offer
no Warranty, and don't check the accuracy.

Well, guess what NEITHER DOES CLOSED SOURCE.

Your $49.99 QuickTax/EasyTax, whatever doesn't come with a warranty either, besides one on the MEDIA.

If it screws up, guess what, it's YOU who owes the IRS money. The developers are held harmless, because they are simple developers. They are not tax law experts.

Same thing happens when you take your taxes to H&R block. The best 'guarentee' they offer is your money back.

Now if you went to an accountant, or a CA, CCA, etc, They can be held partially accountable.

If you ask me, we need real engineers designing complex software like tax programs, not simple programmers or developers. Stand behind the work, and put your professional licence behind it.

Other wise, might as well use quicktax, and cross your fingers.

Re:No Warranty (1)

Guilly (136908) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301498)

You know what, they've been working at it for a long time and even though they don't offer warranties, they do have a lot of people trying to catch the very few mistakes that it might make. And a very large client base to prove that it does work.

Oh the other side you have GeekTaxOpenSourceLinuxBeautyWithAFatPinguinLogoPro gram made by Joe who looks over the code after dinner and receives bug patches by email from time to time. Sometimes he fixes stuff.

Don't get me wrong, Joe is a good guy. It's just I wouldn't trust this years taxes to him.

Ready, set, outcry! (1)

drix (4602) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301120)

Just when you thought the IRS could get any stupider:

6. Why can't I e-file with this program?

Because of the lack of cooperation of the IRS and the API. When I wrote to the IRS regarding this, I received the following reply:

Thank you for your inquiry.

The government believes that private industry, given its established expertise and experience in the field of electronic tax preparation, has a proven track record in providing the best technology and services available. In addition, the government believes a partnership with private industry will: provide taxpayers with higher quality services by using the existing expertise of the private sector; maximize consumer choice; promote competition within the marketplace; and meet objectives in the least costly manner to taxpayers.

We hope the above information will prove helpful to you.

Sincerely,
The IRS Website Support Team

I suspect that there will either need to be an outcry, or we will need to present this project as a corporation of sorts for cooperation from the IRS. For more info, see the previous FAQ entry.
How ... monolithic. I've never even heard of the government referring to itself as "the government" before.

Re:Ready, set, outcry! (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301158)

It gives me the impression that the IRS employee didn't know what the question was. I'd like to see what email was sent to them before judging the returned email.

Re:Ready, set, outcry! (1)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301334)

It gives me the impression that the IRS employee didn't know what the question was.

It looks like a form reply to me. I suspect it's the one that is sent to people that ask: "why do I have to pay to file electronically?".

Personally, I believe the IRS should be paying electronic filing fees. They are saving at LEAST as much money by not having to enter the data themselves. If you include the error-checking done at the source, there's also a reduction in the number of exceptions they have to handle.

The typical electronic filing fee is $15-17. If the IRS offered a flat $5-10 for every return that was filed electronically, Intuit (and the others) wouldn't have to collect the fee from the consumer, and their volume would probably double.

There used to be a 1040PC form, which could fit an typical return on a single page. It was generated by something like TurboTax, and was optimized for scanning. But, the IRS stopped accepting the 1040PC in 2000.

Re:Ready, set, outcry! (1)

mspohr (589790) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301516)

My tax form is complicated and I don't qualify for the free filing. I'm not going to pay extra for electronic filing to help the government do their paperwork. They should pay me for electronic submission... so I file my 25 page tax form on paper. The cost is minimal to print it out and postage is less than a dollar. Maybe one day they will get a clue but until then they can pay someone to enter all of those numbers into their computer (and check their accuracy).

Form Letter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301338)

I agree that the response is lacking, but am not so eager to blame the query for eliciting it. It reads to me like a form letter.

Comparison with Brazil (4, Informative)

synthespian (563437) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301206)

Some of you might find it interesting to compare the US situation with other countries (comparisons are always nice for parameters)...
Brazil's equivalent of the IRS (Receita Federal) offers its version for federal income tax software for download for Windows, Linux, Macintosh and jar files for any other OS Yes, they use Java. It makes sense.
http://www.receita.gov.br/PessoaFisica/ReceitaNet/ RecnetJava.htm [receita.gov.br]

Re:Comparison with Brazil (1)

wile_e_wonka (934864) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301450)

It would be awesome if the US did this. I couldn't imagine it happening though--the IRS is full of very conservative boring people (no offense, I applied to work there as a lawyer, so I fit the mold...well, except that they didn't hire me); I think they wouldn't write a program because they're afraid they'd write it wrong. They know how to tax, not how to write code.

However, I'd be willing to lobby for this. Anyone with me?

Re:Comparison with Brazil (1)

wile_e_wonka (934864) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301490)

I forgot to mention, Virginia allows you to file your state taxes in a form online on their website for free (probably only people with pretty easy taxes can use this form). I used this form this year, and it worked quite well.

Personal Income Tax? (0, Troll)

disturbedite (979015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301280)

too bad there is no law stating that americans have to pay an income tax. the 16th amendment was not properly ratified and the supreme court has consistently ruled in the past that a citizen's (NOT corporation's) labor is his own property and can not be taxed by the government. its thanks to the stupid lower courts that ignore their responsibility to follow the supreme court's findings/precedents that confusion arose and sidelined the movement against 16th amendment/personal income tax.... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America:_Freedom_to_F ascism [wikipedia.org]

Re:Personal Income Tax? (1)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 7 years ago | (#18301486)

too bad there is no law stating that americans have to pay an income tax. the 16th amendment was not properly ratified
You've been listening to too many scammers. Article 1, Section 8 already gave Congress the powers to collect taxes, including income taxes: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;". The 16th Amendment merely removed the confusion about the apportionment of those taxes. The only people that complain about the 16th Amendment being improperly ratified are kooks.

Re:Personal Income Tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301504)

Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left.

Go back to Digg (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301592)

Your nutiness will enjoy a more favorable treatment from your fellow pseudo-Libertarian nuts over there.

Re:Personal Income Tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301632)

America: Freedom to Fascism has some good points in the later half of the film, but the choice to tie it all to tax kooks made it all for naught

http://evans-legal.com/dan/tpfaq.html [evans-legal.com]

Any other questions?

Unusable - DO NOT USE. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18301512)

I tried it. It's not ready for primetime and in fact does not appear to work.
Maybe next year.
The W2 information does not update 1040.
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