Almost 150 million Americans filed tax returns in 2014. Nearly half used the allegedly simple 1040A or the even simpler 1040EZ. Regardless of which form we use, though, most of us find the process daunting. More than half hire someone to prepare our returns and almost all of the rest of us use software programs to figure out what we owe or how big a refund we’ll get.
It wasn’t always this way. For its first quarter century, the income tax only applied to a tiny sliver of the population, who filed on March 15 (yes, the Ides of March). But things changed when we needed a whole lot of revenue to finance World War II. Payroll withholding was invented, which enlisted the help of employers to collect taxes in bite-sized chunks out of every paycheck and, voila, the class tax became a mass tax. Most of us became familiar with the annual ritual of settling up with the IRS. About three-quarters of us get refunds because withholding exceeds our tax bill. These refunds may lessen the sting a bit, but the whole process is still awfully complicated.
For tax year 2014, Form 1040 includes 79 lines that ask about mysterious things, like if you qualify for alternative minimum tax or whether you paid tuition and fees or if you had any capital gains. It’s easy to feel a little intimidated.
Here, experts from the Tax Policy Center give you the information you need to help conquer your fears. Follow along as they break down some important sections of the most-common and most-dreaded income tax form.