So I filed my taxes pretty early this year (this is the first time I’ve ever owed taxes) using TurboTax. At the end of the submission, I was given an option to pay with a credit card, direct debit, or check. Since I don’t want to carry around a several thousand dollar balance and since I didn’t have the requisite funds in my checking account at the time, I had to settle for a check.
I took care of the state taxes first since it was a much smaller sum and I had enough in my checking account to cover it. Intuitively, as you logged into the state tax payment site, it would pull up the information regarding the e-filed tax returns, show you how much you owed, and ask if you wanted to pay in full.
Fast forward 20 days. After I transferred the funds from a savings account, I found out that to pay online (since TurboTax didn’t show the payment options interface again), I needed an EFTPS account, which for some reason or another takes 15 days to process the account setup. So after receiving the account information and activating my account over the phone, I proceeded to log onto the site and attempt to pay the balance owed on my 1040.
Unfortunately, this process came to a screeching halt once I reached the “Tax Type Selection” screen which presented the following 6 options:
- Estimated 1040ES
- Balance due on Installment Agreement
- Pmt on an amended return 1040X
- UnderReporter CP2000
- Audit Adjustment
I knew for sure that the last two options were not applicable, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out which of the other four I should be using. The help on the page is completely useless, presenting the following information:
The payment due information, such as a Federal Tax Deposit for businesses or an Estimated Tax Payment for individuals. This is the type of tax you are paying. The options shown here are those available for the Tax Form you selected above.
And of course, selecting three of the other four options lead to the same exact form…To make it even more “user friendly”, the forms were not populated with data that made sense. Instead of pre-populating the amount with the amount I owed and the “Tax Period” date with “2006”, the date entered is “2007”.
Being completely baffled by this system, I proceeded to call the EFTPS customer service line. Surprisingly, I got through on a Saturday in no more than 1 or two rings. Unfortunately, the service rep. that I got was definitely clueless and instead, referred me to the IRS offices. Since the IRS offices are closed on the weekends, I had to postpone the whole ordeal until this morning. The funny thing is, after speaking with the IRS rep., she admitted that she had never actually seen the system and couldn’t help me pick an option (but she was nice). Instead, she referred me back to EFTPS customer service.
Fortunately, the woman I reached this time seemed to know my problem right off the bat (you know, as if she’d received like, a million calls about it already). It turns out that the second option, “Balance due on Installment Agreement”, is missing some text and should really read something like “Balance due on Installment Agreement or Current Tax Return”.
What really baffles me is why my data wasn’t just pulled up when I logged in. It would only make sense that once I was authenticated through this whole ordeal of linking a funding account, obtaining a PIN, and activating my account over the phone, the software would be able to pull up my already submitted e-file with the amount owed with a text box asking me how much of the balance I wanted to pay and a button labled “Pay Now”.
I’ve found that in software/UI development and working with other people, if you make a process (any process, software or human) intuitively easy, even people who would otherwise wince at the suggestion of doing something will accept it. Imagine if everytime you shopped on Amazon and you wanted to add something to your cart, you had to click the item and it would take you to a screen where you had to enter the SKU from the previous page…
One would think that the government would want to make it easy for citizens to pay their taxes.