Further Simplification of Income Tax Forms and Instructions Is Needed and Possible

GGD-78-74: Published: Jul 5, 1978. Publicly Released: Jul 5, 1978.

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Although the ultimate way to ease the taxpayers' task in filling out their returns is to simplify the tax laws, much can be done to make the tax forms and instructions more readable and easier to understand. The 1040 form and related instructions are written at a reading level beyond that of many taxpayers, and the cluttered design of the forms and instructions presents a stumbling block for taxpayers.

At the request of GAO, reading, writing, and design experts illustrated how the Form 1040 tax package can be made more understandable. The experts reduced selected sections of the 1040 instructions to the eighth or ninth grade reading levels deemed most practical by solving two problems--the use of long and uncommon words and the use of long and complicated sentences. Design experts identified and solved the following problems: lines of information too close together, insufficient margins and spacing, not addressing Form 1040 on a line-by-line basis, chronology of instructions, and differences in specific and general information. It would require an estimated one-time investment of about $900,000 and recurring annual costs of about $3.3 million to bring about the type of improvements the experts thought necessary. Spread over 85 million packages, the increase for the first year would come to only about 5 cents for each tax package.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should: establish a special task force to undertake a comprehensive effort to improve tax forms and instructions; within a short time, develop a comprehensive plan and detail the specific improvement goals expected to be achieved, specify timeframes for achieving them, and present estimates of the cost of the effort; and initiate action to reprogram funds already appropriated to support the task force's effort. Congress should hold hearings to review with Internal Revenue Service its plans for improving the tax forms and instructions and the progress being made.


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