The Internal Revenue Service and tax preparers are starting to go through a weird evolution of purpose.
Instead of just being the people who squeeze money out of us, they’re becoming people who try to help us through hard times (with, for example, the Earned Income Tax Credit) and try to help us be more fiscally responsible (by, say, setting aside money for retirement).
In some areas, the IRS and tax preparers have been major sources this year of information about how poor people can sign up for government health programs.
If you’re one of the readers who finds the whole idea of the government getting involved in this morally offensive: I respect your view and waver back and forth between agreeing with.
Certainly, government efforts to shape public behavior through taxes and tax policy can be corrupt. They certainly complicate the tax code, in ways that may promote golden child goals over equally, or more, important goals.
But, in the current system, whatever its faults might be, the cover of the tax instruction booklet, the banners on the IRS website and the walls of tax preparers’ cubicles are valuable marketing real estate.
There’s nothing like the possibility that you might get, or have to pay out, a lot of money to focus your attention on financial matters.
Maybe the IRS could, say, help 0.1 percent of taxpayers prepare better for retirement — and post-retirement acute health care costs, and post-retirement long-term care (LTC) costs — by simply posting an arresting photo with the tagline, “Have you thought about what you’re going to do about money when you get old?”
If just one in 10,000 tax return filers took that question to heart, the IRS could persuade 23,000 people to do a better job of planning for the future. That’s actually a lot of people.
If the IRS put a message like that on its website, with, say, a link to the LifeHappens.org website, maybe it could help put more than 2 million people on a better path.