30 April 2012

Paying Taxes

Today is Tax Day in Brazil! All people who are required to file an income tax declaration must do so by midnight tonight. Mark and I filed our Brazil taxes weeks ago, right after we filed our United States taxes. Right, Brazil and the United States do not have a tax treaty, and right, that means we have to file double taxes. Both countries make a tax claim on the worldwide income of their citizens and resident foreigners. At least that's the law. But income tax is a delicate subject to approach. People have their own ideas of how/when/who to pay. They also fall into so many different categories, with so many exceptions and deductions and readjustments that it's hard to organize a discussion. Anyway, among people we know there are those who don't agree with me that filing double taxes is a legal requirement. Some of our friends admit to doing a bit of fudging, or even a lot of fudging, and just hope to stay under the radar. But Mark and I long ago decided to comply as best we could when it comes to the dreaded T-word.

In Brazil, the tax-filing process is first-world: fast, efficient, safe, private and worry-free. You collect your documents and your numbers, prepare your taxes right on the computer using the government's secure program (where the calculations are all done for you). You then file directly to the government at the click of a mouse. You receive an immediate acknowledgment of receipt, plus an all-important receipt number, and with that receipt number you follow the progress of your declaration from the status of "received," to "being processed," to "processed" or — should worse come to worst — to "under analysis," the status you don't want to see. (If you get that status, you can start to worry.) This process I've just described is how Mark and I have been filing our Brazilian income taxes for years. On the Internet. For free. Our status right now? Processed.

As for the United States, the tax-filing process for us at least is third-world: slow, cumbersome, manual, done on paper and sent via the postal system. The forms and the instructions might be available online, but if you want to file electronically you cannot have a foreign address. So Mark and I — and millions of others — have to file our United States income taxes the old-fashioned way. But even if we lived in the States and wanted to file electronically, would we be able to? By ourselves, I mean, and for free, the way we file in Brazil. No matter how much googling I do, or how many friends I ask, I get contradictory information. It does seem that you can file online but only by using some IRS-endorsed "electronic return transmitter," as they're called, to whom you pay a fee. So if I understand correctly, if you do your own work without using a tax preparer, you then send your work — and all your private information — to some third party you pay to click the "send" button for you. On the face of it I must say that sounds ridiculous. I don't care if these companies are endorsed or not, they're collecting information about us. Requiring people to use  an intermediary seems so backwards.

Albert Einstein once said that "the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax." He of course was right, irony and humor aside. Some people try to do the right thing. Some people make honest mistakes, and rectify them. And some people do their utmost to defraud governments all over the world. It takes a long time for their comeuppance to come up, but here are a few tax evaders from around the world:

Paulo Maluf, Brazil, starting to sweat
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy, still smiling
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia
Ponty Chadha, India
Odd Nerdrum, Norway
Douglas Bruce, fine example of a Colorado State legislator

1 comment:

  1. At uni I had taxation classes. I had this professor that said: "when we travel to first world countries, we like to admire everything we see, and we come back to Brazil saying 'oh, the USA is so great, everything works so well over there.' But when we come across world class, perfect working processes in Brazil, we don't appreciate them nearly as much. We should appreciate our incredibly efficient, safe, fast tax-filling process."

    Although I accept that the Brazilian tax-filling process is brilliant, I am at the same time offended by it. When Brazilians need their government for something, they get incredibly poor services. But when it is about the government misappropriating their income, it manages to work more efficiently than the super efficient United States.