Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We've moved quite a few times over the past five or six years, so we've been lucky enough to file taxes in several states. This year we have to file in Virginia since we "resided" there while Allyson was in training at the State Department. The Virginia tax forms are, by a considerable margin, the worst I’ve ever encountered.

Here are the instructions for Line 6 on Form 760PY (the form for part-year residents), which is actually the first line after the basic name, address, and filing status stuff:

"Part I on the back of Form 760PY must [emphasis theirs] be completed before you make an entry on Line 6. Complete Lines 28 through 32, then enter..."

So filers must complete Lines 28 through 32 before [emphasis mine] Line 6? If that's the case, why not move Lines 28 through 32 ahead of Line 6? Let's call them Lines 6 through 10, and renumber the following lines accordingly. And this, for all intents and purposes, is the very first line of the form. It's not an auspicious start. And it only gets worse. To wit: Line 32(a). On the form all it says is, "Net fixed date conformity modifications." Flummoxed? Well, here's what the instructions say:

"Virginia's date of conformity with the Internal Revenue Code was advanced from December 31, 2006, to December 31, 2007. The special 30% and 50% bonus depreciation allowance for certain assets under the IRC and the 5-year net operating loss (NOL) carry back..."

It goes on like that for another nine lines of gibberish, unintelligible to all but tax-preparation professionals (and I suspect even a few of them would be confused). It almost seems like a trap for the filer. Not only that, but the design of the form is abysmal. The type is so small it's hard to read. I don't have my pica ruler handy, but I'm guessing it's 10-point at the most. And the leading - the space between the lines - is so narrow that it's difficult to write in the numbers.

The federal form is, by comparison, a work of clarity and beauty. But nothing compares to the Maine income tax forms.

My, I remember them fondly: bold and colorful, with plenty of room to write in the numbers. If fact, there are designated spaces for each digit on a line. The instructions were clear, too. In the spirit of the Rome Bus Project, here are my grades for income tax forms:

Virginia: D-

Federal: C

Maine: B+