6.1 Taxes

GregLawson edited this page Apr 10, 2012 · 26 revisions

Filling out state and federal taxes has seemed a poor fit for open source software projects when compared with the ubiquitous commercial products. However it seems likely that using a variety of open source tools can provide an open source/open data solution. The key is not to mimic the approach of the proprietary software developers but leverage open resources:

  1. Out-source forms and instructions to the IRS. The IRS will always have the latest and most accurate versions of these on their website http://www.irs.gov/formspubs/index.html. This is actually a substantial weakness of the proprietary software approach as they can't keep up with all the IRS changes each year. Unusual forms and instructions are simply ignored. FOSS is better able to address the long tail with-in a loose and open framework that can be incrementally updated each year.

  2. OpenTaxSolver provides the tax computations. It provides no hand-holding, you are referred to read the IRS instructions. Its basically a text based command-line tool with a primitive spreadsheet-ish GUI. Potentially, text input and output give you full control, which you'll never get from a proprietary locked-in program. Filing is basically cut and paste each number into the IRS fill-in form PDFs. They tout this as an advantage for a FOSS project, "(This avoids the otherwise costly problem of producing official updated output forms, -- one of the major drawbacks to previous open-source tax efforts.)" The project has been going since 2004, so they have a point. They also claim that the this years updates were relatively easy, "Updating the forms keeps getting easier, due to OTS's re-usable framework, even though there were significant changes on almost all State and Federal forms. In particular, Schedule L and M went away, and Schedule D now requires filing the new 8849 forms."

  3. The best current program for transferring data from Open Tax Solver to PDF fill-in forms seems to be OpenTaxFormFiller.

  4. Since there is not always a on-to-one mapping between Open Tax Solver lines and IRS PDF fill-in fields, additional manual or computer assisted mapping and data entry is still required.

  5. A meager attempt to provide database input to Open Tax Solver exists in: Account model and Transfer model

I believe the IRS and FTB should provide a more FOSS friendly filing method than printing fill-in PDFs and mailing them in, but in times of austerity fetishism and industry regulatory capture, I don't expect it.

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