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Taxes are simply too complicated

Even CPAs have to use computer programs to get it right, reader complains.

DEAR HARRY: I hate the income tax! They have made the tax so damned complicated that even the CPAs have to use computer programs to get it right. Why can't we have a flat tax that has a return with maybe four or five items on a single sheet? That would save most taxpayers a lot of money that now goes toward tax preparation. Or we could go to a national sales tax. Why not start a campaign for simplification?

WHAT HARRY SAYS: Join the club. For as long as I can remember, there have been advocates of your position. Perhaps the greatest problem is the use of the income tax to encourage or discourage certain actions. For example, the charitable-contributions deduction has nothing to do with taxes, but it does encourage giving. Homeownership is given a boost by the interest deduction. And look at this list of credits against the computed tax! You count the ones that are really tax-related: child tax credit, dependent-care credit, earned-income credit, adoption credit, qualified-retirement-savings credit, health-coverage credit, education credits, elderly and disabled credits, foreign-tax credits, residential energy credits, alternative vehicle credit, first-time-homebuyer credit, excess Social Security withholding credit, mutual fund undistributed-capital-gain credit, and there are more. And many of these are limited by tie-ins to taxable or adjusted gross income. On the other hand, both the flat tax and the national sales tax favor the wealthy.

Fairest of all? A self-assessed tax on men based on virility, and on women based on beauty.