Thursday, April 02, 2009

If You Can't Explain the Rules, They're Too Complicated

One of my early experiences with this concept came while implementing a Revert button in an application I worked on. It did pretty much what you expect it would; if you made one or more changes on the current screen, you could click that button and it would undo those changes. I implemented it in a perfectly logical way given how this application communicated with its server. Unfortunately, when it came time for me to explain to the tech writer how this button worked, some of the subtleties caused by what I thought was a perfectly logical implementation made it difficult to explain how the button actually worked. Part of the documentation for this button ended up saying something like the best way to understand how this feature works is to use it.

I was reminded of this while reading the instructions for the California Alternate Minimum Tax. When I hit upon the line in the tax forms telling me to write in my Alternate Minimum Tax, I naturally checked the instructions to see if I needed to fill anything in. I was hoping they'd say something like If your taxable income is less than x% of your adjusted gross income, you need to fill out Schedule P (the form one files when they have to pay AMT). That's when I came across this gem: Complete Schedule P (540NR) to see if AMT applies to you. Brilliant. Apparently the best way to understand the Alternative Minimum Tax is to fill out the Alternative Minimum Tax form.


Anonymous Luke said...

Ah the AMT. Something you pray you'll never run into, and I'm sure you won't unless you become very, very wealthy. I've run into one client in my three years of doing taxes that has had to pay AMT.

Also, I'm pretty sure the IRS barely understands how it works, much less the average citizen.

5/28/2009 6:04 PM  

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