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Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

April is a good time to reflect on tax policy

  • Article by: CHRIS FARRELL
  • April 24, 2012 - 10:41 PM

Ah, it was down to the wire with my taxes.

I did file in time on April 17, only to learn a few hours later that my refund would end up paying for a timing-belt repair on my car. It's a good use of the money. I plan on driving my aging car for a long time to come.

This year I did my taxes online. I had always used an accountant but I wanted to test drive an online program. I used TurboTax. I found it was easy to use and I didn't have any moments of tax frustration or technological confusion. I'd recommend it for anyone with a DIY mind-set.

Still, even though I do my money management online, I think I'll return to an accountant. It turns out I like talking with a professional about what's going on with my taxes not only in the past but soliciting thoughts about the future.

Although I felt some time pressure as the filing deadline neared, (my own fault), I like tax season. It forces me to gather together all my financial information. The exercise is a useful snapshot of the previous year.

Better yet, in pulling together the data I learned flaws in the way I was tracking some numbers. It's still early enough in the new year that the changes I'm making to my record keeping will pay off later on.

Tax time is an opportune time for financial reflection. The information I have allows me to easily review my spending, saving and giving plans for the remainder of the year. In January I wrote a column suggesting that April is a good month for coming up with a budget. You've got the numbers before you. Take advantage of it.

I did think about how hard it'll be to pass genuine tax reform while clicking through the various deductions and credits. I believe that a major overhaul of the tax system is coming.

The reason is the federal government's dire long-term fiscal situation. All the main bipartisan deficit-reduction plans are based on comprehensive tax reform, eliminating as many deductions, credits, phase-ins and phase-outs as possible.

My guesses: The mortgage interest deduction -- gone. The tax difference between ordinary income and capital gains -- gone. The exclusion for employer-provided health insurance -- gone.

You get the idea, and the reform problem. Every tax deduction and tax credit has a constituency.

Still, the tax code would be far more equitable because those with equal incomes -- no matter what the source -- would pay the same tax. Filling out the form would be easy and for most people it could probably be done by the IRS.

The political debate would then focus on how progressive to keep the system and how high rates should go to pay the government's current and future promises. (We can always dream, right?)

Chris Farrell is economics editor for "Marketplace Money." Send your questions to

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