Monday, January 26, 2015

The NFL and the IRS: Birds of a feather

As a lifelong Detroit Lions fan, I can still envision the game-winning touchdown catch Calvin Johnson made in Chicago in September of 2012. You can watch the replay over and over and 99 out of 100 people will say, “Wow, that was a fantastic catch.”

Unfortunately for the Detroit Lions, the one person that didn’t call it a catch was an NFL referee. Consequently, the Lions lost.

Fast-forward to this season with the Detroit Lions and Dallas in the playoffs. A critical penalty was called against Dallas and announced on the public address system. Seventeen seconds later it was suddenly not a penalty and play resumed as if the flag were never thrown.

Football experts claimed they had never seen anything like this before and Dallas won the game. One week later, a Dallas player made what appeared to be a phenomenal winning touchdown catch. Again, everybody but the referees saw a spectacular catch and the pass was ruled incomplete.

So why am I bringing this up in a personal finance column? Because fans are being turned off by the NFL. Not because it isn’t exciting, but rather, because the rules have become overly complex. What appears logical or common sense isn’t happening on the field of play.

In today’s overly complex world, I think people want the rules simple and straightforward and they want them applied fairly across the board.

Segue to the real world. People are just beginning to receive the documents they need to complete their 2014 tax returns. Some taxpayers will soon be opening up the tax programs on their computers. Others will be calling the IRS for clarification or looking up tax information online. And many will bring shoeboxes full of papers to their tax preparers.

The point is simple; the tax code isn’t. Nor is it logical. What makes sense to you and how you interpret the tax code isn’t the issue. Your interpretation of the tax code is irrelevant. Just as your take on a touchdown catch doesn’t matter. The only opinions that matter are those of the NFL referees and the IRS.

A recent example of the overly complex IRS tax code is the new health care law. The IRS published a twenty-one-page booklet that explains the new law. There is also a booklet with a dozen pages with instructions on how to claim one of the 19 exemptions.

If by chance you’re eligible for a health care subsidy, there’s a two-page Premium Tax Credit form with thirty-six simple steps to complete. Also new to the 1040 form this year is a box labeled “full year coverage.”

The NFL is exciting, but the rulebook is becoming so overly complex the television analysts now have rules experts to explain to the fans why the catch they saw really wasn’t a catch.

The IRS has pages and pages of rules and regulations that often defy logic. While growing up, many youngsters dream of playing in the NFL in front of all the fans. Nobody grows up with the goal of being in front of even one IRS agent.

I believe the time has come for both the NFL and IRS to re- examine their rules with the objective of simplifying and bringing logic and common sense back into the entire process.

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