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The Compliance Cost of Itemizing Deductions: Evidence from Individual Tax Returns

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  • Mark M. Pitt
  • Joel Slemrod

Abstract

The resource cost of operating the income tax system is large, totaling as much as seven to eight percent of revenue raised. One source of this cost is the system of itemized deductions, which can require extensive record keeping and calculation. This paper estimates the resource cost of itemizing deductions. In contrast to previous studies of compliance cost which rely an survey evidence, we infer this evidence from data reported on tax returns which suggest that there exists taxpayers who would save money by itemizing but who choose not to. We find that in 1982 the private cost of itemizing totaled $1.44 billon, or $43 per itemizing taxpayer. The compliance cost dissuaded from itemizing aver 650,000 taxpayers who would have thereby saved taxes, causing an extra tax liability of nearly $200 million. Increasing the standard deduction by $1,000 would save $100 million in resources that would otherwise have been devoted to itemizing.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark M. Pitt & Joel Slemrod, 1988. "The Compliance Cost of Itemizing Deductions: Evidence from Individual Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 2526, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2526 Note: PE
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    1. Daniel R. Feenberg & Harvey S. Rosen, 1986. "State Personal Income and Sales Taxes, 1977–1983," NBER Chapters,in: Studies in State and Local Public Finance, pages 135-186 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Joel Slemrod & Nikki Sorum, 1984. "The Compliance Cost of the U.S. Individual Income Tax System," NBER Working Papers 1401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Das-Gupta, Arindam, 2004. "Compliance cost of the personal income tax in India, 2000-01: Preliminary estimates," Working Papers 04/9, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
    2. Alm, James, 1996. "What Is an "Optimal'"Tax System?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 49(1), pages 117-33, March.
    3. Edgar L. Feige, 2000. "Taxation for the 21st century: the automated payment transaction (APT) tax," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 15(31), pages 473-511, October.
    4. Damjanovic, Tatiana & Ulph, David, 2010. "Tax progressivity, income distribution and tax non-compliance," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(4), pages 594-607, May.
    5. Kotakorpi Kaisa & Laamanen Jani-Petri, 2016. "Prefilled Income Tax Returns and Tax Compliance: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Working Papers 1604, University of Tampere, School of Management, Economics.
    6. Tazhitdinova, Alisa, 2015. "Reducing Evasion Through Self-Reporting: Theory and Evidence from Charitable Contributions," MPRA Paper 81612, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 2017.
    7. repec:npf:wpaper:09 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Serra, Pablo, 2003. "Measuring the Performance of Chile’s Tax Administration," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 56(2), pages 373-383, June.
    9. repec:ind:nipfwp:09 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Franz W. Wagner, 2006. "Was bedeutet Steuervereinfachung wirklich?," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 7(1), pages 19-33, February.
    11. Youssef Benzarti, 2017. "How Taxing Is Tax Filing? Using Revealed Preferences to Estimate Compliance Costs," NBER Working Papers 23903, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. De Fiore, Fiorella, 2000. "The optimal inflation tax when taxes are costly to collect," Working Paper Series 0038, European Central Bank.
    13. Buiter, Willem H. & Sibert, Anne C., 2016. "Government deficits in large open economies: The problem of too little public debt," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 10, pages 1-39.
    14. Blaufus, Kay & Bob, Jonathan & Hundsdoerfer, Jochen & Kiesewetter, Dirk & Weimann, Joachim, 2013. "Decision heuristics and tax perception – An analysis of a tax-cut-cum-base-broadening policy," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 1-16.
    15. Alm, James, 1996. "What Is an "Optimal'"Tax System?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 49(1), pages 117-133, March.
    16. Christian Gillitzer & Peer Ebbesen Skov, 2013. "Evidence on Unclaimed Charitable Contributions from the Introduction of Third-Party Information Reporting in Denmark," EPRU Working Paper Series 2013-04, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    17. Grottke Markus & Kittl Maximilian, 2013. "Komplexität im Steuerrecht – Zentrale politökonomische Theorien im Lichte einer empirischen Ursachenforschung mit Hilfe von Process Tracing / Tax complexity in emergence – pivotal political-economic t," ORDO. Jahrbuch für die Ordnung von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, De Gruyter, vol. 64(1), pages 163-194, January.
    18. Eichfelder, Sebastian & Schorn, Michael, 2009. "Tax compliance costs: a business administration perspective," Discussion Papers 2009/3, Free University Berlin, School of Business & Economics.

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