In the Netherlands, it takes the average person 15 minutes to fill out a tax return.
In Britain, Japan, France and Peru, it's so simple there are no H&R Blocks or tax preparation firms.
In Finland, Norway and Sweden, the government fills out your tax form for you. In Sweden, in fact, you can approve your tax return by text.
In the United States, however, each taxpayer spends an average of 30 hours per year gathering documents and filling out forms. And they pay $10 billion in fees to tax preparers, and another $2 billion to tax software makers.
"We've made it incredibly difficult to pay your taxes," says T.R. Reid, author of a new book, "A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System." "It's the most complicated system in the world," he lamented at a recent forum at Colorado College.
In Canada, they have a tax free savings account you can put money into and take money out of any time, at any bank. Whatever is in there is always tax free. It's so simple savings have skyrocketed.
In the United States, we have the 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), the SEP, the SARSEP, the ESOP, the IRA, the Roth IRA, the myRA and the SIMPLE IRA, which is anything but. Each has its own set of rules. A billion-dollar advisory industry has sprung up to help us navigate it all.
So now, the White House and congressional Republicans have introduced the first major tax reform effort we've seen in three decades.
On Thursday, the Senate voted to approve a spending blueprint that will allow Republicans to pass a massive tax cut without Democratic votes.
The debate is already engaged over whether this reform is a good idea or a bad idea. Will it make our taxes simpler, fairer and more efficient?
The Gazette and Colorado Politics want you to join in the debate. We're assembling a panel of experts for our Community Conversation series to talk though the pros and cons of the proposal to rewrite our tax code, and its impact on Colorado.
We'll tackle the tough questions, like whether we should eliminate a bunch of exemptions and deductions and credits and loopholes to raise the amount of income that is taxed so that we can lower the rate.
Should the deduction for charitable donations go away? If we got rid of that, would donations plummet?
Or the deduction for mortgage interest? Would home-buying screech to a stop if we eliminated that one?
Or the child tax credit, which allows a deduction of $2,000 for each child?
We'll try to answer your questions on how changes will affect individuals and businesses directly, and look ahead to possible steps forward in the battle over tax reform, and how the current proposal might evolve.
We plan to gather at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3, at Studio Bee at the Pikes Peak Center. The event, cosponsored by the AARP, is free and open to the public, and the conversation will be live-streamed on Gazette.com.
Reid, one of the nation's best-known reporters thanks to his books, documentary films, and articles for the Washington Post, will be one of our panelists.
So will Tatiana Bailey, Ph.D., director of the UCCS Economic Forum within the College of Business, and perhaps the preeminent economist in Colorado Springs.
Paul Prentice, Ph.D., will be there, too. He is an economics fellow of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, and a senior fellow at the Independence Institute's Fiscal Policy Center. He was the chief macroeconomist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Reagan.
Getting into the weeds of your tax returns will be Marvin Strait, a certified public accountant in Colorado Springs. An Army veteran, Strait has served as chairman of the board of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), the State Chamber of Commerce. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Foundation.
We'll start with five-minute opening statements from each panelist, take questions for 40 minutes and then end with two-minute closing statements. We also plan to solicit some questions via social media before the event and bring them to the discussion.
Is this the moment when we finally do something about our convoluted tax code?
Every 32 years, like the return of cicadas, the country seems to reach a breaking point on taxes. The last time was exactly 31 years ago, when President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil teamed up on the largest simplification of the U.S. tax code in history.
"We're the richest, most powerful, innovative, probably the freest nation, in the world," Reid said. "We do a lot of things right. All over the world people are using American innovation and American ideas. But there are some things we don't do very well. Our tax code is a disgrace to the human race."