Are computers, computer networks and their programming that much less complicated than US tax code?

Answer by Wray Rives:

Mike Emeigh and Richard Fritzler make some very good points in their answers.  I would just add one more perspective.  In college I was required to take classes in Fortran and Basic, so I have a very rudimentary skill at computer programming and can even write a really simple program and was able to teach myself enough html to make some really basic changes to my website.  I am an accountant and would equate my programming skills to a computer programmer who works a W2 job and maybe has some interest or dividend income.  That computer programmer can probably do his own tax return, just like I can probably insert and re-size an image onto my website. 

While I fully understand that I am not qualified to write any kind of complex computer software, I find that a lot of computer programmers (along with other non-tax trained individuals in other professions) don't know their limitations in doing their own tax return. For a perfect example of this on Quora read Which retail tax preparation package can handle IRS forms 8833 and 5471?

I believe some reasons for this perspective are:

  1. The TurboTax Effect that makes average citizens think that simply using the software will make them tax experts.
  2. Some people perceive that tax laws are a bunch of hard and fast rules and not open to interpretation and variation as they might apply to similar taxpayers, which is far from the truth.
  3. There are under qualified tax professionals preparing tax returns and I am sure some people have had bad experiences using these "accountants".  Maybe even finding out that they knew more than the so called professional.

So while I try to answer tax questions as fully as possible, I am often limited to giving general advice and I do end a lot of answers with the suggestion that the OP consult a tax professional.   I make that suggestion so that a hopefully qualified tax professional can not only consider all the unique factors that impact the right answer, but also because experience tells me that a little digging very often reveals that OP's get their facts wrong frequently or don't disclose all their facts and  those different facts will very often impact the answer I would have given and I hate giving someone bad advice.

Are computers, computer networks and their programming that much less complicated than US tax code?