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Reference Question of the Week – 1/29/11

   February 5th, 2011

Holy GrailI apologize in advance for this week's question - it won't help anyone, and I was trying to avoid the topic this year, but it seems like it's the only thing on patrons' minds lately.

Now, repeat the following conversation about one million times:

Me: Hi, can I help you?
Patron: I saw all your tax forms, but there were no instructions for the 1040 - do you have any more?
Me: No, I'm sorry, we haven't received those yet. We put out everything we get as they arrive, and we do expect to get some, but we don't know when they will arrive.
Patron: Do you know when you'll get some?
Me: No, I'm sorry, they just come whenever they're printed and shipped.
Patron: Well how does the government expect us to get our taxes in on time when they don't...
[insert any number of rants and complaints here, with varying levels of anger and annoyance]

I always try to tell people that tax forms are delayed this year because the tax cut extensions that were voted on in December pushed everything back. I also try to tell them that everything is available online (which most people don't care about), and that there are still months left before taxes are due, so there is still plenty of time (sometimes that elicits looks like I suggested they go kick a puppy).

Patrons ask if we can call them when the instructions come in (we don't do that), and if we can post on our website when they arrive (we will do that). What bothers me the most are the people who, since they can't get what they want, take one of everything we have (instructions for the 1040A and 1040EZ), "just in case." They take a couple copies of the forms too - and I'm worried that when they do come back to get the instructions, they'll take more copies of the forms then, which will cause us to run out of things sooner, which causes us to reorder more from the IRS, which means they print more, which drives up their printing costs, which defeats the purpose of not mailing forms to peoples' homes in the first place.

I'd be very curious, after tax season is over, to hear how this year's approach to tax forms went. Not mailing them to peoples' homes and getting them out late was just a unfortunate coincidence, but still, I wonder how much money they're saving, how many people will file late or incorrectly (which probably also drives up staffing costs for the IRS), and if it was worth it.

And of course, the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if there's more to it: between IRS changes and changes to the way Massachusetts did tax forms this year, it really is extremely difficult for an individual to do their own taxes. I wonder if there is some powerful Tax Preparer lobby that wants to make it impossible for people to do their own taxes, thus driving up their profits and taking one more bit of self-reliance and freedom away from citizens. Hmm - seems far-fetched, but then all of my favorite conspiracies are.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/29/11”

  1. Andromeda Says:

    I would totally believe that there is such a conspiracy theory. There’s a part of my taxes that explicitly says you’re required to use tax preparation software or a tax preparer. (And then it has this fine print about how if you don’t employ a preparer or own software you can, um, fine, OK, just do it on paper. So I don’t really know what they mean by “required”, there. But I trust I am one of, like, five remaining people who does her own taxes on paper.)

    With the people asking for instructions, is there some reason you cannot help them to print them out from the web site? Are this year’s not even up online yet (I haven’t looked since I still don’t have all the forms I need to start, grumble, grumble), or would it just send your printing budget through the roof, or what?

  2. Anne Says:

    and it’s only the beginning of February…

    Our library system’s solution for the bigger branches is to set up a dedicated computer and printer that can ONLY access irs.gov for printing needed forms. We’ve had several people already print out all 179 pages of the 1040 instructions (double sided, of course). I’ve helped a couple of people just print the bits and pieces of the instructions that they need, as well.

    It’s a big SNAFU, that’s for sure!!! But most everyone has been very understanding and nice about it.

  3. Carol Says:

    Hmmmm….Your conspiracy theory makes sense. Curse those sneaky government lobbyists!!

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Andromeda: I still always do mine on paper too (which is part of the reason I think there are nefarious groups plotting against people like me). As for printing, the instructions are online [pdf], but 179 pages at $0.15 = $26.85, which people just don’t want to pay. People could of course just print out the pages they need, but they don’t know what they need until they start doing their taxes, and they haven’t gotten that far when they’re just coming in to pick up their forms.

    @Anne: I like the idea of a dedicated workstation. Our policy is that we’ll print one copy of a form we don’t have for free, but anything beyond that (and any instructions) is the regular $0.15/page.

    @Carol: I know, right? They’re everywhere. Tax forms are going to go the way of payphones, just like when early auto companies paid cities to rip out their streetcar tracks, to force people to buy cars. All of my life’s problems can be blamed on corporate sneakiness.

  5. Marleah Says:

    Hallelujah! We also have not received instructions for the 1040 but have for everything else. And yes, we do repeat this conversation about a thousand times every week.

  6. Denise Says:

    I’ve been blaming the delay on the snow and bad weather too. We haven’t had consistent deliveries because of it, so that helps allay some patron complaints.

    And I agree too about the conspiracy theory, but I think it is the software lobbyists that are in on it deep. Every year you have to buy a new version – no upgrade, the whole thing! There is much money to be made in taxes, but not for the IRS.

  7. Elizabeth Says:

    My library JUST received the 1040 booklets (phew). Something that makes me kind of melancholy is all these people that never set foot in the library all year long except to get tax forms. You’d think they’d see something here that they like and would get them to come back?

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Elizabeth: our 1040 instructions just arrived today too. And I agree that we should play up to these patrons the reasons for coming to the library during the rest of the year – perhaps the government is doing us a favor by forcing people to come to the library.