Taxmef February 13, 2011 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Taxfilter? Mefitax? I know this isn't our domain, per se, but I think it is the type of thing we're great at. And there's plenty of askmefi history to warrant the discussion. What is the proper place for tax questions in metafilter? Is there a proper place? Is there a better forum? Really better? full disclosure: I almost posted this to askmefi, but:

Where-oh-where can I possibly find consistent/navigable (US)tax advice online? Even, perhaps, a forum?

more inside

I know that, in a very real sense, our tax system is intentionally byzantine. I know that no one in their right (profit-seeking) mind would give out tax advice for free.

But I figured: if there's a place to crowd-source tax knowledge, it's the internet! And if there's a place to crowd-source the internet, it's MEFI!

I wouldn't have posted this except that I think it'll help plenty of us.

(then I decided not to post it right away)
posted by es_de_bah to Etiquette/Policy at 6:00 AM (27 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I must respectfully disagree with the notion that crowd-sourced tax knowledge is a good idea. There are situations that call for experts and authoritative opinions, and this might be one of them.

I say this from firsthand experience--I think our tax system is insufficiently progressive, and so I hang out in the TurboTax forums and give intentionally bad advice to rich people.
posted by box at 6:12 AM on February 13, 2011 [11 favorites]

VITA and Tax-Aide are great programs aimed at low-to-moderate income and over-60 people. The Tax-Aide folks have an ask-a-question page, too.
posted by box at 6:15 AM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's my advice: Double check your math.
posted by fixedgear at 6:25 AM on February 13, 2011

I respectfully disagree with the disagreement. Crowd sourcing is perfect for this kind of thing. IF you only use it as a jumping off point. Do not use answers here as your final answer, but as a different tree of possibilities.

Crowd-sourcing is brainstorming with strangers. Final products do not emerge from brainstorming sessions; only ideas.

Suppose there is a question like "I am an educator and I heard there was some kind of credit." You will get answers like "put $250 on line 43". Probably not a good idea to do, unverified. But line 43 might say "enter educator credits from form 97 here". Now you know form 97 might be what you need.

A question and answer site shouldn't discourage people with experience and knowledge from answering questions, in fear that foolish people will follow the advice. The default should be mutual respect: askers and answerers are smart enough to use the knowledge appropriately. It isn't like people need a license to take out books on brain surgery from the library because we are afraid of what they will do with it.

Tax Tip: Get a 1040 form and start filling it out, with the instructions at your side. When you come across something unfamiliar, look it up. If it says "enter your unrealized inventory potentiation class b credit deduction credits here" the instructions will tell you what that means. Usually that's filling out a worksheet. It parses down to plain english very quickly. If a line says "enter credits from form 8888 4532 832 and 431 here" go to and download those forms. One look at the title will usually tell you whether they apply or not.

Tax tip2: if you receive income and taxes aren't taken out of it, save a third of it so you can pay your own taxes. This way, you won't be surprised with a bill.
posted by gjc at 6:26 AM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

i crowd-sourced your mom.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:41 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is the proper place for tax questions in metafilter?

Ask Metafilter, if you feel like you have a question that is specifically well-suited to askme and you've made a point of searching the archives first as well as googling in general so as to avoid unnecessary duplication.

We get a big and unsurprising bump in taxfilter questions every year between February and April, just like we get spikes in Valentines questions first week of February, gift-giving questions late in the year, costume questions in October, etc. All of these things are legitimate topics for the green generally speaking; none of these things is what askme is going to be specifically dedicated to; none of these things is going to get its own official subforum on the site because that's not how we really want to approach niche topics. So it comes down to "ask a question if it's a reasonable askme question on its own merits, but please keep it to a dull roar", just like with anything else, and that's about it.

As far as crowd-sourcing: if you want to try to organize a little "let's pool our tax resources" page on the wiki where folks who like the idea can congregate and collaborate, that seems fine. Putting together and curating a collection of existing askme question on some sort of TaxMe section of the wiki may or may not be super helpful to anyone, I don't know, but it's one approach that has worked for some other stuff before and we could consider tossing a little context-sensitive "oh, asking a tax question? You might check out this wiki page..." note up on the ask a new question page if it works out well.

Beyond that, I don't see us specifically pursuing or endorsing any sort of special tax-fest on the site itself; it's great if people want to talk to each other more about their tax stuff, but Ask and Mefi in general are just what they are, which is not a tax advice site, and changing that isn't something I see as being a great idea regardless of how many smart or enthusiastic tax nerds are knocking around.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:56 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait, rich people hang out in the Turbo Tax forums? I thought they used Private Wealth Management services.
posted by mlis at 7:12 AM on February 13, 2011

I wouldn't have posted this except that I think it'll help plenty of us.

Who gets the legal blame when something goes wrong? I vote for that guy over there, the one if the fedora.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:21 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hey, that fedora is a legitimate business expense!
posted by box at 7:32 AM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

There should be a subsite where you can ask a question about anything, and anyone on Metafilter can answer. We could call it "AskMetafilter."
posted by John Cohen at 7:49 AM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

box's contributions notwithstanding, I've found the TurboTax forums to be really helpful, 'cause they have actual company experts who moderate and answer questions.
posted by limeonaire at 8:12 AM on February 13, 2011

See a therapist.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:18 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can break your questions down into keywords and you're willing to dig around a bit, the actual IRS website has almost all the information you could possibly need.

Also, I've used the H&R Block online service to prepare my family's taxes for two years now (it's free, except for those in the higher income brackets). Almost all of its steps are self-explanatory and those that aren't have easy-to-understand help pages.

Really, though, if your tax situation is more complicated than the answers you can personally find online, you're safer to pay a professional tax preparer to help you.
posted by amyms at 9:08 AM on February 13, 2011

Tax questions on MeFi (really, anywhere on the internet) are tricky. Not only are there the general issues of IANAL/IANYL/DTMFA, there are additional issues relating to what's called "Circular 230," which Treasury promulgated to set standards for professionals practicing before the IRS.

Here's a typical formulation (not from my firm), just for reference: "IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein."

This disclaimer really should be in any answer from anyone "practicing before the IRS" if the thread impacts tax (there are nuances here, but this is the safest approach). Pretty much every communication from anyone at a large law firm includes this disclaimer.

Then, there are separate rules under Section 6694 regulating conduct of "tax return preparers"--which is broadly defined and is NOT NOT NOT just limited to advisors who actually prepare your tax return--it can catch anyone advising regarding a substantial issue on a return.

Again, there are nuances, and exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions in all of these (and other) rules regarding the conduct of tax practitioners. Feel free to point out why these rules don't apply to MetaFilter--believe me, I know the rules and where they apply. But the point is that tax law is one of the most regulated areas of the practice of law, and the best course is usually just for the professionals to keep quiet on forums like this.

Which leaves just non-experts giving advice--some of which is good and some of which is bad. This is no different from other areas on MetaFilter, but as has been noted above, the IRC and the regs are amazingly complicated. Combined with the fact that the actual experts really should be keeping quiet, it can get iffy out there. Yes, there are medical questions up the wazoo (which is itself a painful condition)--and some bad medical advice from non-doctors/nurses--but the tax rules can cause trouble even in the absence of an attorney/client relationship (e.g., marketed advice). It sort of ripples out, where medical advice is somewhat more limited. I don't think that tax questions are some sort of sanctum sanctorum--it's just that the standards for people getting into trouble are pretty low.

If you're rich, your returns may be complicated, but you probably have an accountant (or can get a good recommendation). If you're not rich, your returns are probably not so complicated that TurboTax can't handle it (which has some free options). Most of your questions can be answered on the IRS website. IRS volunteers will help you prepare your returns if you are below certain income thresholds, are elderly, or are in the military: VITA.

I use TurboTax.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:28 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that, generally, TurboTax is only free for the federal return - you'll have to pay for your state return. I *think* the state is usually around $30, but I don't remember exactly.
posted by maryr at 9:51 AM on February 13, 2011

If you want to try to organize a little "let's pool our tax resources" page on the wiki where folks who like the idea can congregate and collaborate, that seems fine.

I agree with this. We always see an uptick in tax questions and collating some of them together might be a good idea. I have started, just barely started, a page on the wiki that can be used for this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:03 AM on February 13, 2011

These tax forms have been sitting, unopened, on my kitchen counter for 3 weeks, can I eat them?
posted by ellenaim at 10:21 AM on February 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

These tax forms have been sitting, unopened, on my kitchen counter for 3 weeks, can I eat them?

Nine out of ten professional accounts agree: It's only safe to eat organic free-range tax forms.
posted by amyms at 10:28 AM on February 13, 2011

professional accountants... ugh.
posted by amyms at 10:31 AM on February 13, 2011

You shouldn't eat your receipts though.
posted by maryr at 10:45 AM on February 13, 2011

People who worry about eating receipts need to just chill out.
posted by box at 10:48 AM on February 13, 2011

I'm in HR, and I remind employees all the time that I can't give them tax advice; we get notices from our main payroll office about it all the freaking time. I cannot favorite Admiral Haddock's answer harder than I already have, which is a pity. If it were up to me, all answers to tax questions on AskMe would automatically convert to a link to the IRS site with the words "we cannot give you tax advice!"
posted by SMPA at 4:43 PM on February 13, 2011

If it's for your individual U.S. federal income taxes and you don't have a particularly complex situation (i.e. you're not rich enough to be affected by the AMT), you can ask me and I'll take a crack at it. I used to be a professional tax preparer.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:52 PM on February 13, 2011

All of that stuff is great, but random people on the internet have no relationship with other random people on the internet to protect. Nobody here is putting themselves out there as a bona fide tax expert, that I know of. All I see is people saying "here is how it worked for me, here is the IRS doc that explains it." If that kind of thing isn't accpetable, then just shut down, because all that's left is non-therapeutic relationship advice and "what should I put on my ipod" chatfilter.

If you don't want to answer, don't answer.
posted by gjc at 6:33 PM on February 13, 2011

all that's left is non-therapeutic relationship advice and "what should I put on my ipod" chatfilter

You say that like it's a negative thing.
posted by John Cohen at 6:46 PM on February 13, 2011

I get my tax advice from the kid in the Statue of Liberty costume and the sign out on the sidewalk. Not the actual tax prep place he's advertising for, but that guy.

ME: Can I deduct my cats as dependents?
Kid in Statue of Liberty costume: Fuck off, dude.
posted by birdherder at 8:19 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out if you want to see what the real AskMe tax equivalent would be. Only tax preparers can ask questions though.
posted by smackfu at 7:14 AM on February 14, 2011

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