By Anchor
CNBC
updated 4/12/2005 7:22:00 PM ET 2005-04-12T23:22:00

Remember when taxes were simple? Clyde Kramer does. The Lincoln, Neb., accountant has kept every return from the 1960s to today.

"I'll probably have a hernia before I'm done with this thing," says Kramer.

He’s frustrated by the annual addition of new rules. What’s the biggest problem now, as Kramer sees it?

"Complexity," he says.

The tax rules and regulations have gone from a small binder in 1913 to 25 volumes in 2004. There are now more than 1,000 tax forms and publications. The 1040 that once took about nine hours to complete on average now takes more than 13.

Albert Einstein reportedly sought help on his returns, and it should be little surprise that 62 percent of us now hire professionals.

Mark Luscombe helps experts understand the law.

"If you look at it in total, it looks ridiculous," says Luscombe, the principal tax analyst at CCH, Inc., a leading publisher of books about tax law. "But every provision in there serves a purpose."

Mass taxation exploded in the 1940s to help pay for World War II, and later, the Cold War.

But it was the 1960s that made the code complicated, adding provisions to help the poor and the rich — piling on, even as President Reagan famously asked why tax laws should outweigh the works of Shakespeare.

"I think you'll agree it's not exactly a major contribution to Western civilization," said Reagan in September 1985.

Even the Internal Revenue Service admits complexity is a problem. Filling out schedule "E" when you really want schedule "SE" creates mistakes — mistakes that are costly and difficult to catch.

"It's an opportunity for someone who is seeking to game the system to try and hide something from the IRS," says IRS Commissioner Mark Everson.

For some, like Clyde Kramer, emerging from tax time unscathed is oddly satisfying.

"I appreciate the fact that I have to pay tax," he says. "It tells me I'm achieving a little bit."

But a word of warning: The IRS this year will close 100 of its walk-in centers where taxpayers get advice. That’s placing more of a burden next year on whom? Take a guess.

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