Friday, January 25, 2013


IRS Forms Only Your Grandpa Could Love

Remington typewriter
 ~ I expect some of my readers may not even know what carbon paper is, or its somewhat more modern, but still ancient relative, carbonless copy paper. If you have received a W-2 or a 1099-MISC income statement from a small business, however, you may have received it printed on one of these papers.

It is bizarrely retro.

As an owner of many small businesses, every year at this time I am reminded why I loathe carbon/carbonless copy paper, or at least the tax man's use of it. Just about every other tax form I must prepare can be downloaded and printed from the Internet, or even filled out on-line as a PDF. Printing and copying is easy for these forms, and some can even be submitted electronically.

Not so these most basic of tax forms, the ones that report income payments. Unless you're a large filer you must request the IRS to send, by mail, physical copies of these forms. You cannot, (under penalty!) use a downloaded form. If you go to the IRS web site, with its wealth of downloadable forms, instructions and publications, you'll find language like this on the W-2, 1099-MISC and similar forms:
This form is provided for informational purposes only. Copy A appears in red, similar to the official IRS form. Do not file copy A downloaded from this website with the SSA. The official printed version of this IRS form is scannable, but the online version of it, printed from this website, is not. A penalty may be imposed for filing forms that can’t be scanned.
Why is this downloaded form not scannable? Who knows! It should be; scanning technology is certainly up to the job. But I am required to only admire such downloadable forms; the real work must take place on venerable six-part forms ordered expressly from the IRS. Sextuplicate forms! Even the name is a joke!

To complete such a stack of forms requires pressing very, very firmly to impress upon the sixth sheet at the bottom of the stack. I use a ball-point pen, and must print very neatly, while pressing down as hard as I can to barely make legible the sixth copy, which is, of course, my copy as an employer. Despite my best efforts, it is too faint to read, and I routinely resort to making a photocopy of the top original for my records instead. (Photocopies! What will they think of next!)

These laboriously crafted forms must then be physically mailed into the IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA). No e-filing for these anachronistic clunkers!

But fear not, one needn't hand print these forms—there are other alternatives! Regrettably, however, they are equally antique. One could use a dot-matrix printer, presuming one can figure a way to format the printing into the correct spaces of the form, and find a way to feed the form properly into the printer without any pin-feeding selvage. No such printer to hand? No problem! A good hard stroke on a typewriter would do the trick. Quality typewriters are still available at better garage sales and antique malls everywhere.

Really IRS? Carbonless paper copies? Ball-points? Dot-matrix printers? Typewriters? What is this? 1975?

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