Christopher B. Browne's Home Page
cbbrowne@acm.org

5. Free Tax Software

This seems to me to fall into the " wishful thinking" category; they may intend well, but actually providing comprehensive coverage of the tax law that governments are "not ungenerous in imposing", for free, seems rather unlikely.

A number of people have produced spreadsheets to assist in estimating taxes in one jurisdiction or another. These won't help you " e-File", are not likely usable to help you print " pretty " tax returns, but they can help you manage your tax information.

5.1. A Gentle Proposal

I have had some " gentle thoughts" of my own. Several projects have started by trying to hack together some of the base forms; I think the process should do a lot more up-front design, perhaps something like the following:

People tend to start the project by assuming that they can hardcode some GUI code to build a 1040 form; this approach will not scale to the production of the hundreds of forms commonly associated with tax returns.

What should happen is for the tax return to be represented as a sort of "schema," with sets of:

Adding in a simple form like a "variant on a W4" where you have a dozen fields that get added up, summarized, and added into Net Income should merely require adding in a "form" entry, which is just data, and a list of the cells, with /no custom coding/ being required.

This will make auditing the calculations a whopping lot easier as they won't require looking at a lot of specific code, but if you threw the "database" into PostgreSQL, you might get some good milage for analysis out of some select form, field, calctype, formula from cells queries.

The approach may introduce some complexity up front, but the usual approach that conglomerates program logic, GUI logic, and tax law into a common "jumble" of code, is not going to be maintainable when things move from 5 forms to 50.

Using these sorts of abstractions where there's a hierarchy of "cells", "forms", and such is the only way you'll get 220 forms written and working and audited.

This sort of project is likely to have a few other properties:

5.2. Tax Preparation Certification Programs

Google

If this was useful, let others know by an Affero rating

Contact me at cbbrowne@acm.org