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Why are tax forms in PDF?

Dear universe,

There are 10+ different organizations that have to give me some kind of tax form so that I can file my taxes. I'm really happy that they are now all electronic. It is much easier to download them off the organization's website than to get them in the mail.

However, if these organizations are going to generate a PDF, can't they also generate a .irs file? A .irs file is an imaginary XML format that I wish existed. It would include all the data from the PDF but in a parsable format. I could take all the .irs files put them on a USB stick and hand it to my tax preparer or feed them into TurboTax.

I know it wouldn't completely automate tax preparation, but imagine how much easier tax prep would be if this existed? I wouldn't have to suffer though watching my tax preparer slowly retyping things (Why am I paying him to do that?). Tax prep software would take each file and, possibly with a little human help, know where to apply the numbers.

I can't be the first to have thought of this.

Why doesn't it exist?

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I guess you'd like to check out how Estoniean e-government works.

"Everyone in the country votes and pays taxes online. An ID card that all Estonians carry not only identifies them in the physical world, but also works in electronic environments. The ID card can be used to encrypt documents and add a digital signature, a legal equivalent to a regular paper signature. It also allows people to access almost any e-service in Estonia, including those of banks, utility companies, and the state's own portal. It even allows citizens to pay parking tickets with mobile phones."

it is much better than .irs and TurboTax :)

Because the big tax providers make money by making taxes as painful and obtuse as possible, as seen by their lobbying for trying to get rid of ReadyReturn in California. Portable files that could be easily parsed would ruin the lucrative deals that tax software providers have now with payroll companies, banks, etc. to "directly import" the data remotely.

Sound similar to EDI only with XML and for taxes. As has been pointed out, there are vested interests on things remaining as they are. What is needed is a disruptive technology or event which creates a groundswell to cause change.

Y'know, I don't disagree with you but I encourage you to be happy that they're not all saying something as stupid as "Send me a 'word' document."

(Not even knowing how stupid it is to believe/assume that 'word' means "MS-Word")

You can use pdftotext to give your preparer a plaintext version of your forms.

Obviously that's a problem you shouldn't need to solve.

XBRL (Wikipedia) is what you are looking for here. Techinically there is a solution, it just hasn't been adopted.

By the way your openID sign-in didn't work for me (i've got a verisign openid)

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