How Taxing is Tax Filing? Using Revealed Preferences to Estimate Compliance Costs
68 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2017 Last revised: 26 Oct 2022
Date Written: October 2017
This paper uses a quasi-experimental design and a novel identification strategy to estimate the cost of filing income taxes. First, using US income tax returns, I observe how taxpayers choose between itemizing deductions and claiming the standard deduction. Taxpayers forgo tax savings to avoid compliance costs, which provides a revealed preference estimate of the compliance cost of itemizing. I find that this cost increases with income, consistent with a higher opportunity cost of time for richer house- holds. Second, using my estimates and estimates of the time required to file other schedules, I estimate the cost of filing federal income taxes. I find that this cost has been increasing since the 1980’s and has reached 1.2% of GDP in the most recent years.
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