Slow Steps Into the Digital Age at the IRS

February 20th, 2008

For those who have never filed form 1099 before, one copy (red) goes to the IRS and another (black) goes to the independent contractor who provided services to a business. Apparently the reason for this is that the IRS’s computers scan the filings, and they can only read forms printed with red ink.

One can’t download the fileable form, because the shade of red must be very specific and a normal color printer can’t be trusted to get it right. One must have the forms mailed out or buy them from an office supply store. tells me that the Social Security Administration updated its systems to accept black copies of form W-2, but the IRS has changed its systems twice without adding this magical ability.

The IRS does allow 1099s to be filed electronically. This is a great step forward- it fairly leapfrogs the whole download/print/mail correct-color routine.

*However*, while thousands of businesses everywhere have figured out how to create online forms viewable and editable in any web browser, AND have worked out a way to let consumers create accounts online in minutes (if not seconds), the IRS is not quite there.

So in order to conveniently file my 1099s online, I must first mail in a form to the IRS, receive a Transmitter Control Code back by mail, and then download and install the IRS’s special form-creation software.

Identity theft and fraud are certainly big concerns so I can understand the need to verify identity before setting up accounts. Putting documents in the mail is not a remedy here though (the IRS should ask Network Solutions about Stephen Michael Cohen and on this point).

The IRS has a huge job managing millions of accounts. They are certainly correct to be careful, and kudos to them for getting on the e-filing program. My wish, though, is that after Microsoft takes over Yahoo and drives away key employees, that the IRS will see an opportunity to pick up some Internet expertise. Yahoo has great e-commerce software. Get some of the engineers behind it working on IRS e-file programs for all kinds of filing.

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