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Turbotaxable (but not yet Turbotaxed) oGovernment Paperwork
May 29, 2013 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Websites and software like Turbotax make it fast and easy(-ish) to file taxes. But what about everything else? I'm curious what kinds of paperwork could be "turbotaxed," but doesn't yet have a streamlined website or program to help people get through the red tape.

I'm looking for paperwork that's confusing, complex or time consuming. The paperwork should be something that can be dramatically streamlined, in a manner similar to Turbotax. (Turbotax, if you're not familiar with the software, asks the user a series of simple, easy to understand questions, then automatically crunches the numbers and fills out the tax forms automatically.)

Bonus points if people frequently pay an organization to help them fill out the paperwork. For example, I know of one profession where people regularly pay upwards of $1,000 to have a company help them fill out and file a series of forms that are required to get a license.

What I'm looking for:

types of paperwork that don't already have a Turbotax-esque software

preferably so difficult to fill out or file that people often hire agencies to help them complete the paperwork

could be completely or almost completely automated through a website

Possible examples:

From what I hear, Veteran's Benefits paperwork is often confusing and difficult to complete. Many of the people filling out the paperwork may be older, disabled or not especially educated, and may thus struggle filling out and filing the paperwork. A simple, large-print website that asks a series of simple questions seems like it could fill a potential niche.

Many different professions require accreditation of one form or another, which often means oodles of red tape. What professions are like this, and what forms do they have to fill out?

Are there common forms of taxes that Turbotax and similar websites don't yet help you fill out? Are they time-consuming or confusing enough that people might be willing to pay a website to help fill them out, yet also straightforward enough that a computer program could automate them?

Any and all help is greatly appreciated. If you're not completely sure about something, feel free to say it anyway. Better too much input than too little.
posted by Green Winnebago to Work & Money (8 answers total)
 
Turbotax may not be the greatest example here. There's been a movement for years to greatly simplify tax returns (basically, the government would say "here's all of the w-2s, 1099s, etc we've receive for you, here's how much we think you owe/are owed back") but Intuit (makers of turbotax) along with H&R block and the other big tax preparers have spent millions lobbying against it.
posted by Oktober at 1:48 PM on May 29, 2013


...Of course they did. Keep it classy, Intuit. Still, for my purposes, Turbotax works. It doesn't matter why taxes are an overly complicated pain, from my end, it only matters that they're an overly complicated pain.

But oh my god H and R Block is actively lobbying to keep taxes as complicated as possible they are horrible
posted by Green Winnebago at 2:00 PM on May 29, 2013


I'd say signing up for initial Social Security Benefits and Medicare. Everyone who signes up is over 62, and would feel VERY comfortable with a question and answer format. There are so many "if this, then that" scenarios that this would be a great thing.

WIC and SNAP might work out as well. Going down to apply for public assistance is brutal, and confusing, imagine if you could do it on-line?

Those are the two I thought of off the top of my head.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:09 PM on May 29, 2013


It's certainly not something that one could really monetize (though I'm sure it's a matter of time until they try), but the British government sort of did this for the overseas passport application--it (in theory) greys out and highlights portions of the form based on your answers. The 'blank' form that you fill out by hand accomplishes the same thing by a series of arrows. I found the smart form to be totally infuriating (it didn't grey things out properly at the time), but the flowchart paper form is not too bad and is basically waiting to be made into a little website. If you're in the UK you can, in fact, apply for a passport online. (Perhaps that system also assumes that if they agreed you were a citizen when you got your last passport, you're still a citizen and doesn't ask for your life story and those of your parents.)

The US passport application could probably be turbotax-ified a bit, but it's not already set up as a flowchart because determining US citizenship requires fewer cases.
posted by hoyland at 2:15 PM on May 29, 2013


I know this is the reverse of what you are asking, but for background:

Apply for Social Security disability benefits online.

Apply for Social Security retirement benefits online.

Apply for Medicare online.

VONAPP: "The VONAPP (Veterans On Line Application) website is an official U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website that enables service members, veterans and their beneficiaries, and other designated individuals to apply for benefits using the Internet."

Online Services for Key Low-Income Benefit Programs:
What States Provide Online with Respect to SNAP, TANF, Child Care Assistance, Medicaid, and CHIP
"Virtually all states have made basic program information on the five main state-administered low-income benefit programs — SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and child care assistance — available to the public via the Internet. Many states, however, go much further, providing information such as application forms and data on the number of participants. A number of states allow individuals to apply for benefits and transact certain related business online."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:18 PM on May 29, 2013


Honestly, I'd look at this from the other way:

What paperwork-instensive tasks can I get the government to subcontract out to me?

For example:

grants.gov is supposed to all-inclusive portal for applying for government grants. It is insanely bad.
posted by Oktober at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2013


The basic financial aid forms, the government FAFSA and the private-school CSS Profile have to be filled out online, but the interfaces aren't good, and I would pay a bit for TurboTax-style advice on how to interpret some of the questions.
posted by Sybil Stockwell Oop at 3:09 PM on May 29, 2013


Some states make signing up for social benefits fairly easy -- Wisconsin, for instance, has ACCESS. You log in, enter your income and household data, and the site tells you which benefits you pass eligibility for. Even so, a number of the social service agencies have specialists who act as ombuds to get or keep people signed up. I think this is less a matter of whether the process is "easy" and more a matter of lifestyle, e.g. being someone with a stable enough living situation to keep paper records.
posted by dhartung at 5:59 PM on May 29, 2013


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