Tax Complexity and Small Business: A Comparison of the Perceptions of Tax Agents in the United States and Australia

Laura R. Ingraham, San Jose State University
S. Karlinsky, San Jose State University
M. McKerchar, University of New South Wales

Copyright © 2005 Monash University.


There is ongoing pressure in both the United States and Australia to simplify their respective tax systems, particularly in regard to small business taxpayers. In the case of both regimes, if substantial progress is to be made towards simplification, the areas of greatest need and the necessary reforms will require careful evaluation. The views of tax agents (practitioners) are highly relevant to the implementation of successful reform in that both regimes rely on self-assessment. It was considered that by undertaking a cross-jurisdictional comparison a greater understanding of complexity, from the perspective of tax agents, could be gained and that, the consideration of alternate treatments could better inform tax policymakers. That is, what can we learn from each other? The article; compares and contrasts the perceptions of practitioners on small business tax complexity based on a questionnaire instrument conducted in the US and an electronic survey and case study conducted in Australia. Tax practitioners in the US consistently rated the areas of partnerships, estate, and gift valuations, tax deferred exchanges, frequency of law changes and retirement plans as the most complex and progressive tax rates, estimated taxes, social security/self-employment taxes, corporate capital gain provisions and cash v accrual method as the least complex. In comparison, Australian practitioners found the frequency of change, the volume of legislative material and the effect of change on other aspects of taxation (including reporting) to be the major causes of complexity. Capital gains tax provisions were regarded as complex as were self-managed superannuation funds and trusts, but similar to US tax practitioners, Australian tax agents did not find the use of tax rates or accounting methods to be complex. The policy implications of these findings are discussed for both regimes, including the implications of having small business-specific rules. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.