15 October 2018

Dear Tax Preparation Software Vendors

Bite me.

Really. I say this on 15 October because I've been forced to assist three different taxpayers panicking on the last day of their "normal" extensions because your software sucks so enthusiastically. In each instance, it was software design error, not what you so blithely assert is "user error." Here's just one example. A user of the program that sounds like it might begin with a fish — if only because it produces such fishy results — had done all of the work necessary to get her return ready to file. Over the weekend, even, so it's not purely last minute (one of the 1099s had to be reissued to her because it was sent to an old address). But your fishy program found a fishy error… and gave an incomprehensible error message, demanding that she go back to an "untitled" 1099 and enter the state in which it was issued. "Untitled" 1099? Well, there wasn't a 1099 captioned "untitled" in the list of 1099s. Instead, one had to go back into the list and review each one, and find that one was untitled: Untitled due to your stupid entry routine, in which if a user hits "enter" by accident twice (really easy to do on a tablet!) it closes the current entry form and starts a new blank one.

One would think that the resulting error message when the user does what comes naturally — backs out of that phantom form (whether a 1099 of some kind or a W-2 or anything else doesn't seem to matter) and assumes that the program is smart enough to see that since there's no data of any kind on the entry form, it should be ignored — would at minimum say "You started a {name of data form} but didn't enter any data. Delete that entire form?" But nooooooooooooooooooo, you vomit up the error message noted in the previous paragraph. Requiring the user to find someone who knows your fishy program's quirks that aren't in the bloody help (in-program or online) and can, with a couple of minutes' sleuthing, find the offending blank form and delete it. On tax deadline day while that user is caring for a family member in chemotherapy.

This leaves aside the inaccurate assumption that your programs and accounting paradigms — especially from that vendor with a parallel family of bookkeeping products whose name tries to imply speed — are accurate in the first place. For any author, creator, or anyone else who receives payments from exploitation of intellectual property on which they neither did labor nor took any legal action (such as signing a contract) during that year, not so much. And so on; all one need say is "Uber" to make things really interesting. Let's just say that the accounting models in your software are so conservative that Barry Goldwater would look like a flaming leftist.

If only to starve you assholes of more revenue from confused taxpayers trying to do the right thing and not engage in massive multimillion-dollar tax schemes that appear to cross the line from "planning" into "avoidance" and further into "evasion," I hope for a simplified system that makes people realize that even the IRS's screwed-up fill-in PDFs are good and simple enough to use. (How screwed up? On the 1040, the SSAN doesn't get printed in the right place… and one cannot actually put the date onto the 1040 for one's record copy, because that's a non-fill-in part of the form!)