O'Neill & Bergado CPAs

Certified Public Accountants

Form 1040: An Unappreciated Work Of Art

ou might think I’m crazy, but every tax season reminds me that I think Form 1040 is a thing of beauty. It is a work of art and a brilliant one at that.

Think about it: the entire individual income tax, comprising hundreds of sections, thousands of words, and almost countless regulations, explanations, and instructions, all broken down into a single two-sided sheet of paper. What do accountants mean when they talk about “above the line”? Just look at Form 1040. Wonder what the difference is between gross income and adjusted gross income and why it’s important? Form 1040 will tell you.

What is a deduction? Is it different from a credit? Is one better than the other? Form 1040 doesn’t only tell you, it shows you. It’s all there, from exemptions to itemized deductions. Business expenses, farm income, moving expenses, alimony payments, the treatment of IRAs, energy credits — even the dreaded alternative minimum tax. It’s all there

Granted, information is funneled into the form from a veritable gaggle of schedules, worksheets, and other places. But how all of it is channeled and ends up on a single page is part of the brilliance. It’s a magnificent design that was first introduced in 1913. (You can see the form’s evolution at our own Tax History Project.)

Form 1040 contains about 80 lines. But in the end, it all comes down to two numbers: what you owe the government, or what the government owes you. Everything that is entered on this form must be correct, because you are responsible for the information you’ve provided and must attest to that.

Some may call me a certifiable tax nerd for getting such pleasure out of a simple form, but I consider that a compliment. Because I find Form 1040 more beautiful, alluring, and mysterious than the Mona Lisa herself. Now there’s something you don’t read every day.





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