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TurboTax's "Geithner question"

Posted by Christopher Shea  January 6, 2010 01:26 PM

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Remember how Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, blamed his tax woes in part on the software he used to prepare his return? Geithner failed to pay more than $34,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes from 2001 to 2003, and caught up only as he was being scrutinized for his current position. As an employee of the International Monetary Fund, Geither says he didn't realize he owed those taxes.

The explanation met with much ridicule, and the software company Intuit suffered collateral damage. "Let's hope the economy is easier to figure out than TurboTax," snarked the New York Daily News, under the headline "TurboTaxed."

Intuit was clearly paying attention. Mary O'Keefe, an adjunct in the economics department at Union College, points out that the 2009 edition of TurboTax now flags the issue that landed Geithner in the soup. On a page that asks, "Do Any of These Apply to This W-2?" there now appears a fresh option: "I worked in the U.S. for a foreign government or international organization and need to pay self-employment tax."

Asked by Brainiac whether Geithner's plight led directly to the addition of this prompt, the Intuit spokeswoman Julie Miller said that "it would not be fair" to make that link. Intuit is constantly trying to improve its product and takes in suggestions from many sources, she said. "We have 20 million users, and he is not the only person who has that situation."

It's still going to be known as the Geithner question.


Screen shot from Turbo Tax 2008

Screen shot from TurboTax 2009

(Images and highlighting via TaxProf)
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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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