TaxGeek 2007 FAQ
0. For whom is this software intended
At this point, geeks mainly. How do you know if you're a geek? You
code in at least one programming or scripting language, you like
how things work, and you actually read the manual on occasion (a habit
trying to find API documentation). If you are not a geek, you will
have some issues using this program at this early stage. If you are a
geek, you will probably have some issues with my coding. :-). Anyhow,
the point is
that the code is not ready for unrestricted public consumption.
1. Why are you doing this? There are lots of online
I can use. Or I can boot up Windows and use TaxAct.
Because I'm a masochist. :-)
Actually, I'm doing it because I install Linux for friends and family
to fix the adware and virus problems they have. In general, they
love it. However, the chief complaint among them is that
they can't do taxes on Linux. For some of them, this is really frustrating, even though
they like everything else.
2. Why don't you have a friendlier user interface?
Also, considering the recent scandals with unnamed companies releasing
personal information and data by intent or accident, I am feeling
rather less confident about web-based tax solutions of late. Call
me paranoid, but my intent is prudence.
Believe me, that's on the to-do
list. I'd love to have an interview format like some of the more
popular tax software out there. But a rewrite of the calculation
"engine" needs to be completed first.
3. What are your short-range goals with this program?
The first is rather boring
actually. It is a rewrite of the calculation "engine" so that all
calculations are done independently of the forms. In order to
support some more interesting features, the calculation functions need
to be isolated from the forms. Currently calculation functions
directly access the forms for their data - so a given form needs to be
open for a related calculation to be done. The plan is to change
this so that a calculations library is created. This library will
be able to either have form data passed to it, or read directly from
saved files, whichever is appropriate.
4. What are your long-range (pie-in-the-sky) goals on this
Next, input validation needs to be added. Currently, there is
almost none. If a user enters letters into a number field, there
will be problems.
The next goal is to add an interview front end to make the program less
geeky and more user friendly. This will probably be implemented
sometime late this year or early next year as I have time.
A long range goal is to enable e-filing. The XPCom interface of
Mozilla based browsers is very capable of doing everything necessary to
e-file. The issues are that the IRS hasn't proved to be very
responsive to my inquiries about this and the e-file API is a HUGE
document that I haven't had time to properly appreciate.
Finally, as time permits, I will be adding forms. The most
important one at this point is the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
Worksheet. The AMT is a tax that was intended to affect
rich people who had mainly capital gains and interest, but not
wages. However, in rare cases, it can affect the rest of
us. The problem is that you can't be certain that it doesn't
affect you unless you fill out this form. In the current release
(0.10), this worksheet is included as a PDF.
If people actually like this program
and find it easy to add forms, then my primary long-range goal would be
to create a user community to maintain an archive of up-to-date forms
for use with this code. This will, of course require
changes to Form
1040 so that it can properly accept results from these forms. It
also be nice to be able to read the Federal results into state
I'm planning to get Pennsylvania started this year as an example.
5. Will this software ever be out of alpha?
Honestly, this is not likely.
Because the IRS changes the tax forms every year. So every year a
release is required. While next year's release will be easier to
together, it will still require changes to just about every form.
be able to reuse much of the current structure of the program, but much
of the logic will necessarily change. This is the primary reason
no-body has done an Open Source tax program to this date. That said,
the program will keep improving.
6. Why can't I e-file with this program?
7. I need form "X". When can I expect this form to
Because of the lack of cooperation of
the IRS and the API. When I wrote to the IRS regarding this, I
received the following reply. (Update 3/11/2007: a number of people
have written me doubting the veracity of this. Let me post the full
correspondence to satisfy my critics.)
Thank you for your inquiry.
The government believes that private industry, given its established expertise and experience in the field of electronic tax preparation, has a proven track record in providing the best technology and services available. In addition, the government believes a partnership with private industry will: provide taxpayers with higher quality services by using the existing expertise of the private sector; maximize consumer choice; promote competition within the marketplace; and meet objectives in the least costly manner to taxpayers.
We hope the above information will prove helpful to you.
The IRS Website Support Team
Date: 2/2/2005 6:49:41 PM
Subject: Individual E-file without 3rd Party
To whom it may concern:
I noticed that the IRS does not provide an option to e-file independent
of private for-profit companies. Why is this? Your stated goal is to
have 80% of tax-payers file electronically within the next couple of
years. Yet, by requiring the usage of for-profit companies, it seems
that a 37 cent stamp or two is much cheaper for most people. Most
European Union countries provide free government approved software to
the public for e-filing.
I am a programmer and would not be adverse to filing my taxes
electronically myself if the formats were openly available and it was
possible to digitally sign the form myself. Is this a possibility? Can
you point me towards the specifications or are they not publically
Dr. Tim Niiler
To follow up, the IRS has now clearly marked what is necessary in
Essentially, one must create an organization with a certain chain of
accountability approved by the IRS. There is no requirement to
indemnify users if mistakes are made. Rather, one must submit to
certain testing (PATS and possibly others), fix mistakes as they are
discovered, and follow certain standards of practice. Finally, one must
have a dedicated server which is authorized to communicate with the IRS
servers and which meets a certain standard of security. In short, e-Filing
is a major undertaking that probably will require the resources of
a corporation, partnership, etc. - more than a two developer team can
handle at this point.
Either when I get round to it, or you
do. There is a developer's kit attached to this package that will
together a new form quickly. If the form is not hugely
interdependent on other forms, it is reasonable to expect a qualified
individual to have it up and running in a couple of hours.
8. Will next year's version be able to read this year's
That's the long-range plan. At this point,
it will need to wait until the calculations "engine" is redone. Stay tuned.
9. I'm having a problem with my PDFs. The fonts are
and as such, nothing lines up correctly.
Er...I don't do fonts. I would
make sure you have the latest Ghostscript fonts installed and go from
there. This program should be writing everything in
Arial/Helvetica by default as the vast majority of folks have those
fonts installed. See the screenshots for samples of what you
should expect to see.
10. What qualifies you to write a tax program?
11. Why don't you just use XUL instead? It's way
cooler than HTML
Good question. I'm a physics prof, a business owner, and
part-time coder, not an accountant. But I've been doing my own
taxes by hand for years (up till about 1997). Also, I myself have
an extremely complex set of taxes, so I'm familiar with most of the
concepts involved come tax time. Other than that, I have no
qualifications. You use this
software at your own risk!
It *is* way cooler. It's also
more time intensive and requires a much more complicated structure, and
at the current time, I doubt there are as many good XUL programmers as
the ability of this project to grow quickly.
12. Why didn't you use GTK+, QT, or some real widget set
with C, C++,
or some real programming language?
That said, if you like XUL and want to code this baby up, be my
guest. XUL would eliminate some of the permissions hassels new
users will get when they try writing/reading/executing local files for
the first time.
Oh dear....I knew this was
coming. My primary reason is that I'm a much faster coder with
a tax application, not an OpenGL based graphics engine. It
doesn't need to be optimized for speed. Finally, due to the rapid
changing of tax forms, I think that coding in C/GTK+ is too slow, if
done properly (IMHO).
13. I found a bug. What do I do?
Again, should you wish to port to a real programming language, be my
guest. I'll be the first to try out the new version.
Report it at
http://taxgeek.sourceforge.net. I'll try to get to it in a timely
manner, but I make no guarantees that this will happen when you want it
Better yet, code a fix and send it in.