Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘IRS

The tax filings / Follow-up: Depressing software issues and the yearly tax filings

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A few days ago, I wrote of depressing software issues ([1]) preceding the yearly tax filings. Now I have completed the actual tax filings.

For obvious reasons (minimal activity in 2021), it was the least effort that I have had in many years, taking roughly twenty minutes for the actual filling-out-the-forms, including checking and re-checking, and maybe another five minutes for finding the few numbers and papers needed. (But not counting the software complications described in [1] and the need to buy batteries for my mouse.)

However, that filling-out-the-forms could easily have been done in a quarter of the time, had Elster worked better, including having a more thought-through workflow and a more sensible set of fields carried over when importing data from last year’s forms. A particular problem was with the EÜR*: a number of fields were marked as empty-but-mandatory, forcing me to enter redundant 0s in some Euro-fields. One of the fields (net profit?) was mandatory and not automatically calculated (or manually editable) until I had redundantly added a dummy 0 in a non-mandatory field, which took a while to figure out. The empty-but-mandatory fields also included four fields for the Steuernummer**, which occurred twice—once filled in, once empty.*** There was no import of the second occurrence from the other, nor from last year, and I was forced to look up the values externally (as Elster does not allow having multiple pages open in parallel). Worse, one of the fields, to identify my local IRS by name, was likely redundant, as the equivalent information is hard-wired into the first of three numerical components of the Steuernummer proper. As the (overall) numerical component was artificially split into three parts, a single copy-and-paste was impossible, increasing the work and the risk for errors even further.

*A statement of various revenues and costs that allows a simplified calculation of taxable profits for small businesses.

**An entity identifier used for tax purposes. I have written about it and several related issues, including the artificial tri-partition of the field(s), in the past, but I lack the energy to search for links at the moment. (I have many previous texts on Elster and the IRS, and to find the right text or texts could take a while.)

***Presumably, two different values can occur for the same EÜR, for one reason or another. In my case, they have always been the same, and, at a minimum, the value from last time around should have been respected for the version idiotically kept empty.

By the time that I was done with the EÜR, I felt the pressure of irritation reach the border of anger, as I have been plagued by so many other problems with the incompetence and tax-payer/user hostility of Elster and the IRS over the years, and I seriously contemplated leaving the rest for tomorrow. However, I pushed on and, for once, the remainder went almost without problems: I had merely to enter a few trivial values and check that no spurious fields from 2020 were left filled.

However, these trivial values included, in the main document, values from two secondary documents (the EÜR and the VAT declaration) that should have been imported automatically to avoid the additional work and the additional risk of errors, as well as numbers from my health insurance, which the IRS will, as a matter of course, ignore in favor of the exact same values delivered directly from the insurer to the IRS. Idiotic. (And something which remains idiotic—I have complained about these issues before. Indeed, most or all of the old problems seem to remain, but they had less effect this year, due to my much easier situation, filing-wise, and my knowledge of what to expect—like when one has developed the knack of opening or closing that tricky hatch, gate, whatnot, which is so troublesome for the first-time user. Consider e.g. the severely misleading labels for various actions in Elster—knowing what they actually do, as opposed to what they claim to do, makes life easier.)


Written by michaeleriksson

October 28, 2022 at 2:22 pm

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Tax filings for 2020 / The German IRS and Elster (again)

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And again fucking, unusable Elster!

Among the problems encountered:

  1. I began the process in (likely) July, by creating the needed documents and making some preliminary entries. With one thing and another, the rest of the job had to wait, which should have be no problem in light of a COVID-related and blanket three-month extension of the deadlines.

    But no: A few months later, I received emails that some of these documents would now be automatically deleted by Elster, because they had gone unedited for too long. I wrote back and forbade this deletion, while pointing out that this was an inexcusable act of user hostility. (Even by the standards of Elster and the German “IRS”.) I note that there is no advantage to such a deletion, but potentially enormous disadvantages.

    They were deleted nevertheless.

  2. The field for messages to the IRS still (!) does not take line-breaks.
  3. That I had added such a message brought Elster into a destructive loop, where (the German version of) “check document” led to a semi-error page that pointed out that I had left such a message (and why?!?!), which repeated again and again on subsequent attempts. The document was still sendable, but this broke the apparently preferred-by-the-IRS workflow of check-and-send-from-the-results-page. (Cf. an older text for these absurdities.)
  4. The “check document” for the main document originally failed on the claim that I needed to indicate whether I had received COVID support—even when I had not. There was no obvious field for this anywhere, there was no indication of help on how to do this, and only an internet search revealed that I needed to add an entire new attachment to the document, which then contained two fields, one for yes/no on whether I had received help, and another for the amount for those who had.
  5. Generally, “check document” is extraordinarily incompetent at indicating where an error (real or imagined by Elster) is located and makes odd jumps. (And there is not or only rarely a visual indication which fields are mandatory in advance.) For instance, in the EÜR document, there are two fields that seemed irrelevant to me, but where “check document” insisted on an entry. I made one entry (indicating 0) and clicked the confirmation button for that entry. Now, I obviously wanted to continue with the second field, which was immediately below the first. But no: Elster took me back to “check document”, forcing me to go back and find the relevant field again.
  6. Did I mention that mandatory fields are usually not marked as mandatory? (Yes, I did.)
  7. I copied a calculated-by-Elster value from one document to another (and why is this not handled automatically?!?), because this value was needed as an input in the second document. The output value contained both a thousand separator and decimal places (and a decimal separator). The input field required a value in whole Euro (no decimal places) and could not cope with the thousand separator, giving me two separate error messages.
  8. A great help in filling out the EÜR could have been pre-filled fields based on last year (which works well with the other documents, where the advantage is lesser), so that I could e.g. see where I had put postage and where train rides and where this-and-that. Specifically in the EÜR, this does not seem to work, however, as only trivial fields (like name and identifiers) are filled out. Then it is down to guesswork or Internet searches to find the right fields.

And to this a few things I might have forgotten, the great many problems discussed in earlier entries, the incomprehensible German tax system, …

Fucking amateurs!

Written by michaeleriksson

October 29, 2021 at 10:35 am

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Tax filings for 2019 / The German IRS and Elster (again)

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Earlier today, I filed my (German) taxes for 2019—and, for once, with a few days to spare. This through a combination of a general increase in the last date for filing (July 31st; previously, Mai 31st), my less stressful workload, and the fact that I had less positions to file.* It still cost me several hours distributed over two days, to get everything in order and to use ElsterOnline, that utter bullshit tool that the German “IRS” has forced down the throat of the users.

*I spent half of 2019 on a sabbatical and then switched from IT consulting to writing novels, with no bills issued, no income, and much less costs for e.g. hotels and travel than in previous years.

I am not going to give a complete overview of Elster, as I have discussed it repeatedly in the past.* However, a few new (?) observations:

*Search for “Elster”, “IRS”, and/or “Finanzamt”.

  1. There is a new free-text field where the user can add a message to the IRS within the filing—finally: this has been years overdue.

    But: It is not possible to add line-breaks in this message. This repeats an inexcusable error, hostile to both the user and the IRS staff that later works with the filings, which was previously present in the specialized form for sending (external) messages. In that separate form, this error has been fixed—but it is still repeated here. Absolutely incredible!

  2. On several occasions, I tried to run my mouse over a field with outdated values to mark the contents, hit backspace, and then enter the new data. This was simply not possible, which is absurd for a functionality that works out of the box with a regular HTML form—unless somehow sabotaged, be it out of incompetence or malice. Instead, I had to click into the field, right-arrow until I was at the end, and then hit backspace until the field was empty.* This is the more annoying as the form based input and the structure of the forms more-or-less forced use of a mouse for tasks like navigating. This way, the user is forced to constantly switch between keyboard and mouse in a manner that goes too far. (And does it for no legitimate reason.)

    *In my impression, I was always, by force, put at the beginning of the field, with no ability to “click” to another position; however, I did not verify whether this was true. It is also conceivable that I could have “deleted” my way backwards with the “delete key”, but it is awkwardly placed and requires a simultaneous “shift” on my notebook, so that would have been more work—if it actually did work at all …

  3. One of the forms had two (times three; cf. below) fields for the Steuernummer*, one in a “cover” part, one in a content part. The latter was correctly imported from last years forms; the former had to be entered manually. WTF!

    *An identification number used by the IRS.

    To make matters worse, the forms insist on dividing the Steuernummer into three parts, each with a field of its own, which implies that a simple one-step copy-and-paste is not possible. To copy it within a form, with no additional sources, the tax payer then has to go forward one (or more?) page(s?), copy part one, go back to the original page, paste, go forward again, copy part two, etc., until all three parts are filled. (Personally, I committed parts one and two to memory and copied just the third part, trading a slight risk of errors for a reduced work load.)

  4. The data import from my previous filing was not complete. At least the VAT portion likely had not one single data field filled, which makes the new filing harder: there are a great number of obscure, poorly named, and poorly explained fields, and having the ability to just look at the old fields makes it much easier to identify which to use this year. Moreover, when I cannot rely on the old fields being pre-filled (if with outdated values), I do not just have to identify the correct fields, I also have to go through the sum of all fields on a just-in-case basis.
  5. While data import from the old filing was possible, I had no way of actually looking at the old filing, e.g. for comparisons per the previous item. For some reason, likely an arbitrary, unnecessary, and destructive time limit, they cannot be opened.

    And, no, there appears to be no way to save them locally in a reasonable format. (Something that I tried with my new filings, and likely last year too.) The only possibility to download the data, short of taking screenshots or saving countless individual HTML files, is a “save as PDF” functionality. This is sub-optimal and limiting to begin with, but, worse, this does not work at all on my computer (for reasons unknown). Odd: This should be a trivial task if implemented correctly: generate the PDF file server-side and then just let the browser download it. Possibly, the idiots are actually stupid enough to try generation client side, which is a recipe for unknown errors.* If it is server side and they still have bungled it, well, that is even worse.**

    *No, it cannot be justified by data protection. Such concerns are often legitimate, but here we had no data that was not already present and (at least somewhat) permanently stored server-side.

    **Software errors happen even to competent developers, but here we have a system that has been handling the 2019 taxes for almost seven months and is now in a high intensity phase. Not having fixed the problem by now, or having introduced it in the last few days, would be horrifyingly negligent. I also note that there was no error message of any kind, which would have been a must, had there been e.g. a temporary back-end problem, say, due to a temporary overload or system failure.

  6. Two fields were mandatory despite my having no value to provide (regarding transfer of assets from the private to the business sphere and vice versa). Here I had to add two entries of “0’, for no good reason. And, no, I could not just pick an existing field and enter the value “0”: these fields (in a wide sense) contained lists of fields, where each entry had to be manually added. Presumably, the IRS expects a detailed and enumerated list of each individual asset transferred, and it would then make sense to allow an empty list when no transfer has taken place. (This is indeed the case with other “list fields”.) But, no, an empty list was not allowed, and to signify that I had transferred no assets, I had to create two single list entries with the value “0” and an additional dummy “reason” (“name”, “details”, or whatnot).

    This is a “Software Development 101” mistake.

    (I have no recollection of this problem from prior years.)

I can only reiterate my yearly observation that this tool moves on a level of incompetence that is mind-numbing, including obviously faulty behavior, a complete disregard for established conventions, an extremely confused (and confusing) user interface, etc. As a former software developer, it boggles my mind that this type of shit can be made by (alleged) professionals—and while wasting tax payers money. Yes, I know, the government and incompetence, but still …

Written by michaeleriksson

July 29, 2020 at 6:34 pm

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A survey by the German IRS

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Earlier today, I was notified of and participated in a German “IRS” survey by my local Bundesland* (NRW).

*Roughly the German equivalent of a U.S. state.

This survey, it self, displayed many problems and is unlikely to be of much help with improvements. If in doubt, it was more suited to detect angles of attack through public-relations work than through actual improvements… It does, however, reinforce my opinion of the low competence level of the German civil service. Consider, in a likely highly incomplete discussion:

  1. It required use of unnecessary technologies*:

    *I tend to surf with minimalistic settings and turn functionality on-and-off as it is actually needed. This includes defaults of images off, because most images on most websites make surfing less pleasant and the time to load a page longer; JavaScript off, because JavaScript is a major security risk and (also) makes most websites less pleasant; and cookies reduced or turned off to avoid privacy invasions, unethical tracking, and similar. And, yes, both JavaScript and images are also often abused for unethical tracking and similar.

    I needed to turn on images to get past a CAPTCHA, but the actual survey did not need images (and there is no reason why it should have). The CAPTCHA, a simple addition of numbers, could equally have been done in text, if need be verbosely (e.g. “What is five plus three?” instead of “5 + 3 = ?”). The risk of an automatic access is low; and, if it did occur anyway, it might be a more useful information than the survey provided. (For instance, if someone were to submit the same answers repeatedly through automatism, it is clear that someone feels very strongly. Ditto, if a denial-of-service attack takes place.)

    Early information implied that it might (!) be impossible to submit the survey without JavaScript, so I duly turned JavaScript on. The survey, however, contained no functionality, beyond mere nice-to-haves*, that could not have been done without JavaScript.

    *For instance, some minor changes of questions (depending on prior answers) without switching pages.

    Early information also spoke of cookies, but was vague on their use/necessity (including combining claims like we-use-cookies and here-is-how-you-disable-cookies). I left my settings unchanged (accept sites’ own cookies; deny third-party cookies) and got through without problems, but there was no part of the survey that could not have been implemented with e.g. URLs instead of cookies. The cookies that I found in my browser, after submitting the survey, were few and trivial.*

    *I cannot speak as to their exact role, because they contain no plain-text, but the low amount of information of the four cookies makes this clear. This with one exception, a “PHPSESSID”, which implies that PHP was used (another sign of great lack of judgment) and that my session was tracked by this ID.

    I strongly suspect that both the CAPTCHA and the use of JavaScript would have caused great problems for those relying on e.g. screen-readers. So much for accessibility…

    Better would have been to have no image dependencies whatsoever, to use no cookies at all, and to leave JavaScript entirely optional.

  2. The survey, by its own bullet list, presumes to automatically collect data that is of no relevance to the survey and most* of which the makers have no legitimate reason to know, including:**

    *Three-through-five from below are potential exceptions. The rest have no legitimate bearing on anything, and might even serve to worsen future work, through the temptation to write browser or device specific code, assume a certain screen size, or similar. Good web-design tries to be agnostic of such information. On the other hand, such information is popular among e.g. profile builders and trackers…

    **Texts in square brackets are my approximate translations, where needed; the rest is the original text.

    • Website von der der Besucher kam [website from where the user came]
    • Browser
    • Provider
    • Betriebssystem [operating system]
    • Gerätetyp [type of device]
    • Gerätemarke [brand of device]
    • Gerätemodell [model of device]
    • Bildschirmauflösung [screen resolution]
    • Standort (Land/Region/Stadt), von dem aus teilgenommen wurde [location (state/region/city), from where participation took place]
    • Dauer des Aufenthalts auf der Webseite [time spent on the page]
    • Anzahl der durchgeführten Aktionen [number of actions performed]
    • Zeitpunkt und Seite im Fragebogen, zu dem / auf der die Befragung ggf. verlassen/abgebrochen wurde [Time and page in the survey, at / on which time the survey was left/interrupted]
    • installierte Browser-Plugins [installed browser-plugins]
    • Browsersprache [browser language]

    I note that some of these items are vague or hard to interpret. For instance, “Provider” is probably intended to be the ISP, but it might be something else. For instance, “Browser” could be anything from the mere name of the browser (e.g. “Firefox”) to the full user agent.

  3. The design was highly sub-optimal, including use of non-standard checkboxes that made it hard to tell when a checkbox was actually checked.*

    *The rendition (and behavior) of checkboxes and other control elements is best left to the browser. If it is not, for whatever (most likely ill-advised) reason, a check should result in a check-mark or, on the outside, a cross of some type. Here the checkbox was merely colored differently… What bad idea such manipulations are, is shown by a recent visit to another website (which, I do not remember), where radio-buttons had been re-designed to look like checkboxes—leading to my trying to leave several of the pseudo-checkboxes checked at the same time (which checkboxes allow), and just seeing my check mark move from box to box (because radio-buttons do not allow simultaneous checks).

    Another annoying issue was text fields that (a) had a limit of 250 or 300 characters of input, (b) were considerable larger than this limit. This made it very hard to judge by eye how many characters were left. A counter was not present, despite being a near standard by now (a JavaScript nice-to-have that was not implemented). Moreover: When the limit was reached, the field just swallowed any further characters with no type of error message (another unimplemented JavaScript nice-to-have). Moreover, a so narrow limit is problematic, because if a user does have something to say, this few characters are often insufficient, especially if he wants to provide context, argumentation, or another high-value answer (as opposed to e.g. a mere “You suck!”). (As a comparison, I ran the draft version of this single paragraph through a word count. It contains roughly 900 characters…)

  4. A number of questions inquired about the latest this-or-that. This is negative on at least two counts:

    Firstly, experiences with the latest this-or-that are not necessarily representative, remarkable, or what the user would like to mention. For instance, my latest tax filing has (to date—knock on wood) been comparatively painless. The one before that was a horror, including an absurd delay in processing by the IRS, the charging of interest due to the late end of processing (which was largely caused by the IRS, it self…), and a late fee based on the incorrect claim that I had not filed in a timely manner.* The result included the need for several letters to the IRS, a (hopefully temporary) loss of money, and a considerable insecurity, seeing that I still have not received a conclusive answer—after roughly half a year… Because only the latest counts in the survey, all of this will fly under the radar.

    *Specifically, ignoring that I had a dispensation to file late.

    Similarly, what does it matter how the latest contact with the IRS was? What about a typical contact or the worst contact?

    Secondly, the survey period overlaps strongly with the normal period for tax filings, implying that the latest for some will concern what they did in 2018 for the year of 2017, while for others it will concern what they did in 2019 for the year of 2018.

  5. At least some of the questions only allowed a very rough guesstimate. For instance, how would I know in May how much effort I spent on filing my taxes in December? How this time was divided on parts like filling in forms, sorting through invoices, and researching how data should be correctly aggregated and entered?
  6. Generally, the questions were vague and too abstract, e.g. in that the user was allowed to enter how (dis)satisfied he was with some things through a rating scale*—but not why. It would be better to find a smaller sample group and to study their grievances more in detail. Of course, this applies to a great many other surveys: Making a survey takes comparatively little work, making a good survey (which this was not) takes a lot more work, and actually finding out something worthwhile (which surveys rarely do) through other means can be quite a lot of work. But, hey, we did a survey—now we have proof that we are doing something!

    *Another complication with such ratings is that people tend to rate on the kind side relative their true opinions. Adjusting the scale by subtracting one step from each vote of average or better will usually improve the estimate. (In some cases, notably ratings on merchant platforms, the inflation can be so bad that a five-out-five is positively expected for an average performance, which would normally be given a three-out-five; while a mere four-out-five is reserved for problem cases. Cf. e.g. a money.com article on reviews.)

  7. At the same time, the set of questions was highly limited and bound to give an incomplete view. For instance, there was no question about VAT filings, which are a PITA to the many free-lancers (of which I am one). For instance, there was no question on deadlines. For instance, there was no question on whether information from the IRS was correct (e.g. in response to an inquiry).
  8. An interesting constellation is a set of mutually dependent* questions on how much time was needed for tax filings, how much the filings cost (e.g. through use of a Steuerberater**), and whether a Steuerberater was used. Because there were no sign of causal connections and context, these questions could be abused to divert criticism: “Yes, there were many who complained that it took too long, but few of those used a Steuerberater, so they have only themselves to blame!” resp. “Yes, there were many who complained about the cost, but they all used a Steuerberater. They should drop the Steuerberater and do the job themselves, and save all that money!” Good questions would have probed the “why”, e.g. whether someone who would like to file himself sees himself forced to use a Steuerberater for reasons of time or complexity, or whether someone who would like to use a Steuerberater does not due to the cost.

    *Behind the scenes, not necessarily in the survey.

    **Roughly, tax consultant.

The worst thing, however, is how both the notification about the survey and the survey it self, utterly inexcusably, had the audacity to ask for participation to make the services even (“noch”) better. This adds insult to injury, because the quality of service is very poor, the unnecessary (!) efforts needed by the tax payers are considerable, etc. This includes problems like the low usability of Elster*, a low competence level and poor attitude among the civil servants, and a tax system that is a horror. (Cf. a number of earlier texts, e.g. [1].) Indeed, this audacity alone should rightfully lead to a summary firing of the responsible party.

*The main tool for filing taxes and doing various other works.

A similar user-despising attitude was displayed by the sub-domain used for the survey: ich-mache-mit. An English translation that preserves the subtext is tricky, but consider an “I participate”, lowered in register*, with implications of enthusiasm**, and being an advertising phrase. Indeed, outside of advertising, this phrase is most likely to be spoken by children who want to join in a game or similar. In advertising, it usually has very cheesy and unrealistic implications of “I, too, am one of the cool/righteous/whatnot!”, used to manipulate*** the most stupid sections of society to “want” to participate in something.

*If not for the recent twitter campaign, I might have tried a translation of “me too” to catch the register. In contrast, “ich nehme teil”, would be roughly the same register as “I participate”.

**I am little tempted by the vision of Katniss’ and her “I volunteer!”, but that scene is contextually inappropriate.

***Or at least try to manipulate. Whether it actually works even on the stupid, I leave unstated.

Excursion on improvements:
On the upside, it appears that Elster is going through changes that allow a greater amount of automatic import of data from the IRS, which will reduce redundancies and efforts. The lack of this obvious functionality has annoyed me for years—but better late than never…

Excursion on surveys:
The low value of surveys might be cause for a future text of its own. In a nutshell, however: They force the opinions of the survey-taker through a narrow filter that gives a highly simplistic view of his opinions, be it through leaving important aspects out, forcing a single choice instead of a multiple, requiring making a choice where he has no strong opinion,* loss of context, … Bigger picture issues including survey makers often (and often incorrectly) assuming that they are smarter than the survey takers, deliberate attempts to fix a certain result through leading questions, a greater wish to get machine-readable data than valuable data, and similar.

*In all fairness, the survey above usually contained a “no answer” option. This is highly unusual, however. (An example of such forced questions is “Do you prefer (a) politician A, (b) politician B, (c) politician C”, where many of the survey takers might not care, not have a fixed opinion, think very negatively of all three, or similar. The effect of forcing a choice is highly misleading data.)

Written by michaeleriksson

May 4, 2019 at 12:47 am

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Tax declaration for 2017/More on Elster etc.

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My second go at the tax declaration was more successful than the first. A few, likely incomplete, remarks, however:

  1. As far as I can tell (without making a detailed check) all the old problems remain (cf. e.g. [1], [2]). This includes the inability to edit multiple forms in parallel and the arbitrary number-format issues, both of which were big annoyances. The latter includes complications like that copying “11,30” into the one field leads to an error message that decimal positions are forbidden, while copying “34” into another brings the error message that two decimal positions are mandatory (even though an exact number was intended—not a rounded “34,25”). Never mind that all other tools I use follow the convention of a decimal point while Elster strictly uses the German convention of a decimal comma
  2. The handling of VAT (not Elster specific) is an unnecessary cause of complications and not very logical: Despite* VAT merely being collected by businesses on behalf of the IRS**, it counts as income when collected and as cost when either paid out the IRS or paid to other business (based on their bills). This introduces several pointless fields and the need to copy*** data from the one form to the other, where the net result should be 0.**** Really, this should not be income and cost—but positive and negative cash flow: There is no* change, even temporary, in terms of overall net assets and the “accounting balance” —only temporary fluctuations in the bank balance.

    *Looking at practical intent and logic: The formal system might be different, which would explain the illogical procedure.

    **I refer to the German Finanzämter and the general system by “IRS” for convenience and understandability. The correspondence to the U.S. entity is not perfect, however.

    ***It remains the case that data input or calculated in one form cannot be automatically synchronized with other forms referencing the same values, introducing manual steps and potential errors. This is especially absurd, seeing that these values do not really benefit the other forms—a good system would require the IRS to input the values (preferably automatically) based on the forms.

    ****At least once the yearly VAT declaration has lead to a correcting payment over the monthly pre-declarations and pre-payments.

  3. My VAT calculations were partially foiled by some older submitted forms no longer being readable—for no discernible reason.
  4. Various copy actions were made the harder through Elster somehow (likely not deliberately) disallowing the copying of calculated values from the forms. Whereas it is normally not a problem to copy any piece of text from an HTML page, this was simply not possible here. (I did not investigate in detail why this was so, but a brief look at the HTML code makes me suspect that the values were somehow displayed through CSS instead of normal text.)
  5. I tried to save* the EÜR-form with dummy values of “TODO” for some fields where I did not have the values at hand,** wanting to complete the rest and come back to these fields later. This with the particular point that I had now identified all the fields that I needed, allowing me to target these specific fields later—without having to go through the entire document again, costing me additional effort and introducing the risk of missing a field the second time around. Alas, not only were these fields marked as containing errors, but it was impossible to save the form without correcting these errors. (Note: Not send the form, which would have been OK—merely save the form.) Imagine if a code editor refused to save code that did not compile, a text editor text with spelling errors, or a spread-sheet fields with invalid formulae.

    *Thinking back, I am a little uncertain whether I tried to save, just move to the next page of the form, or both. Whichever applies does not alter the idiocy, however.

    **Including some of the aforementioned VAT fields.

    As a workaround, I filled these fields with absurdly large values that would have caused correspondingly absurd totals to appear, (a) giving me a chance to see what fields were picked, (b) making it obvious if a field had been missed. Still, this is suboptimal and introduces a further moment of risk.

    Needless to say, the nifty feature of being able to mark (e.g. through a check-box) what fields are relevant-but-still-incomplete is not present.

  6. Many of the forms could be made a lot easier by adding a few central switches that suppress irrelevant parts (“married yes/no” e.g.—someone not married has no possible use for half the “Mantelbogen”; with some reservations for when circumstances change during the year).
  7. The form to send a free-text message to the IRS is particularly idiotic (also see previous discussions for other problems): A reasonable form would have one page, with three fields, viz. identification number, subject, and body. The actual form has several pages, including requests for information like address, company address, data about a spouse, …
  8. Some of the problems (including the previous item?) could be explainable by a conceptual flaw: Instead of Elster being connected directly to the IRS (just like my online banking is connected directly to my bank), it is a “service” provided by another governmental organization that merely sends the data to the IRS in a manner similar to offline tools by third-parties. Without this conceptual flaw, a number of simplifications, e.g. with regard to data input and changes of address, would be possible.
  9. Elster is excruciatingly slow. For instance, to close the one form, open another, copy a value, close the second form, open the first form, and paste the value, takes ages. (And remember that it is not possible to have two forms open in parallel.) Even switching from the one page of the same form to the next, an operation that should be almost immediate, causes a very noticeable delay. (I never timed these operations, but on some occasions it might have been as much as ten seconds.) All in all, I spent several times longer waiting for Elster than I did actually interacting with it.
  10. The German tax system makes a great use of “Freibeträge”, amounts that the tax payer can deduct without e.g. providing receipts. In some cases, e.g. for relocation costs, this can be an advantage when the overall costs are small enough. In others, it is more or less fraud. Notably, there is a blanket amount that any employee can deduct for “Werbungskosten”*, which is painted as a great service towards the people—as if this was a tax break. In reality, it is nothing but an invalidation of all deductions smaller than this blanket amount: The overall amount of money needed by the government is not magically reduced, implying that the same money is collected through a higher overall tax rate. The blanket amount then merely means that “if you have Werbungskosten below this amount, you cannot deduct any Werbungskosten”, very similar to the deductible of an insurance policy. A further complication is that many with somewhat higher actual costs will not bother to state these costs—finding all** the receipts and making all the checks needed to claim, say, an additional 50 Euro will be more effort than is worth the trouble. To boot, this system is unfair in as far as even those with considerably lower Werbungskosten can use the full amount, causing a flow of money from*** those with higher Werbungskosten to those with lower…

    *I am uncertain what a good English translation could be. The general meaning is costs related to work and that only arose through work. Examples include e.g. special clothing (mostly blue collar) and professional literature (mostly white collar).

    **Note that it is not enough to find the receipts for those 50 Euro—the entire amount, blanket + 50 Euro, needs to be covered.

    ***Measured against the baseline of a sound deduction system. Compared to a system where Werbungskosten are not deductible at all, however, the flow still benefits the people with higher Werbungskosten.

    The true reason for this blanket amount is likely that the IRS wants to avoid additional work on its own end, notably checks of receipts* and the like.

    *However, the last few years, receipts have grown less important and are no longer collected by the IRS by default. Obviously, the tax payers still need to keep the receipts in case of e.g. an audit.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 2, 2018 at 8:27 pm

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More on the German IRS

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And my problems with the German IRS and the inexcusable Elster tool continue:

  1. I have written about technical and other issues forcing me to make repeated unnecessary visits to Elster to file my preliminary VAT ([1])—unnecessary, because I am on a sabbatical and have a preliminary blanket 0 for the rest of the year. The idiocies of Elster and the IRS have already extended the one visit that should have been necessary to four, as discussed in [1]. Come early August, I tried again, found that my Steuernummer and whatnot now were available for automatic use, and opted to minimize the additional effort by pre-declaring my VAT in two quarterly forms—stating 0 for the third and the fourth quarter. Alas, a few days ago, I received a note from the IRS claiming that my submission for the third* quarter had been rejected on the grounds that I was not eligible to file quarterly… In other words, these nitwits actually consider it reasonable that I should use even more of my spare time to file individual 0s for every individual month of the year… All in all, I would be better off just terminating my status as a freelancer. (Of course, if do, they will probably shove yet another Steuernummer down my throat—and another one after that, when I terminate my sabbatical and start working again… Cf. [2].)

    *I have as yet no word on the fourth quarter, but the outcome seems predictable…

  2. End of May, I explicitly contacted the IRS about a stay on my tax filings for 2017, due to the urgent need to handle other IRS related matters, including entirely unwarranted additional fees imposed upon me for errors that the IRS had committed. (Some of them are covered in earlier posts, but I will likely write a larger one later on.)

    This is normally no problem whatsoever, for the simple reason that it is good for the IRS when tax declarations are delayed: They can divide their own work more evenly over the year without being bogged down around the deadlines and they have the interest advantage (because most German filers see a tax return).

    Standard procedure is to simply request a stay under the assumption that no answer means consent—and while rejection likely can happen, I have personally never heard of it. In this specific case, I would not even consider the matter negotiable: I had to take action to compensate for errors by the IRS; ergo, the IRS has only it self to blame. (And, no, I did not receive a rejection notice.)

    Nevertheless, I recently received another letter complaining that I had not yet filed for 2017, setting me a deadline for 2018.09.24—six (!) days before the end of the stay…

    This is so unbelievably pointless and idiotic that I am starting to doubt whether incompetence is enough to explain the behavior of the IRS…

  3. My complaint concerning the main points behind the previous item is as yet unanswered, close to three months afterwards…

    Considering the quite obvious situation behind these complaints, which should allow the matter to be decided in five minutes by an intelligent reader (barring the need for checks and verifications that under no circumstances should take more than a few days of waiting time), and considering that communications in the other direction regularly come with very short deadlines*, my enthusiasm over this delay is limited.

    *I have not kept statistics, but, going by feel, I would say that most deadlines set by a government agency towards me have been fourteen days after some reference event—and often an event taking place before I actually receive the corresponding message.

    The only message I have as yet received in return appeared* to merely state that my complaint had arrived and been sent back to the local IRS office, rather than being treated by the recipient, the Oberfinanzdirektion**. This too was highly annoying, because I had explicit chosen the Oberfinanzdirektion as a suitable escalation—high enough to avoid the worst incompetence and partiality of the lower levels of the governmental hierarchies, but not so high as to seem like overkill. By sending the matter back to the local IRS, they still expose me to the exact problems I wanted to avoid, and I consider it highly likely that I would*** be forced to escalate the matter again, making the this action a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

    *Unfortunately, I cannot find it on short notice to verify the details, and there was no reason for me to pay attention to said details at the time.

    **A mid-level supervisory agency within the overall IRS system.

    ***At this juncture, and in the light of the additional issues discussed in the first two items, I will escalate pre-emptively.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 26, 2018 at 8:25 am

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More on Elster and Steuernummer

with 2 comments

And further problems with that inexcusable piece-of-shit tool Elster and the idiotic Steuernummer:

Being on a sabbatical, I knew that I would see no additional income and not that much expense after April. In other words, I should have been able to dispense with the monthly preliminary VAT declaration, file a blanket “0”, and make any corrections with the final yearly declaration. In effect, I should have been able to log into Elster once, in early May*, file my April VAT and give the preliminary “0” for the rest of the year—and then be able to forget about Elster until it was time for the main tax declaration.

*The declaration has to be submitted on or before the 10th of the following month. This, notably, even if the declaration amounts to “no VAT”.

Alas, no: Early May, I had not yet received my new Steuernummer (cf. [1] for terminology and problems around this misconceived identifier), despite having notified the “IRS” about my move well in advance. I decided to wait with the rest of the year until early June, being aware of complications of jurisdiction that had delayed the process, and fearing that a pre-filing using the old Steuernummer would lead to more problems than benefit (e.g. in that the IRS would ignore these, impose further entirely illegitimate fees*, and cause me hours of work to remedy that).

*I have a text in planning detailing some absolute outrageous, inexcusable misbehavior of the IRS in the course of this year, where I will go into this. For now, I am awaiting the eventual results of my complaints, before I write that text. Short form: The IRS ignores my explicit communications, e.g. concerning “SEPA-Lastschriften”, and then blames me for the consequences of its own negligence.

Alas, again: Early June, I had still not received the new Steuernummer, moving me to wait yet another month and increasing the single planned Elster session (May) to three (May, June, July).

Alas, again: While I did receive the new Steuernummer before early July, other events will force me to add at least one other session, now making it four (!), where it should have been one… To boot, my experiences demonstrated further problems with the inexcusable Elster interface (also see e.g. [2], [3], [4], [5]).

Specifically, as I logged in today:

I opened the form for the preliminary VAT declaration, used the data-import function with the May form as a source, and tried to correct the Steuernummer. First oddity: The first component of the Steuernummer given to me was “5131”—but the form only accepted a three-digit first component. After a comparison with the old value, I suspected that the leading “5” was a Bundesland (“state”) identifier, and that I was supposed to enter just the “131”, having already made a drop-down selection of the Bundesland. (This worked: Based on changes in the display, I could also deduce that “131” identifies the Finanzamt Wuppertal, confirming some of my speculations in [1] about idiocies in the Steuernummer.) This is absurd: Steuernummer should obviously always be communicated, entered, whatnot, in an consistent manner. If the full number requires a leading “5”, then the leading “5” should be allowed in the form, either without a manual selection of Bundesland* or with a consistency check between the two.

*Knowing the extreme incompetence of the IRS, I suspect that there is another problem with the Steuernummer, it self, that prevents this: The format of the number could conceivably still be slightly different in different Bundesländer… (Also see [1].)

Done with that, on to the rest: I opened a new form, and now tried to do a data import based on the declaration I had just submitted for June—only to find that it was not yet listed (possibly, due to some entirely unnecessary delay somewhere). Because I did not want to have to manually enter the new Steuernummer again and again, I now went into the “profile” section of Elster (an alternative source of data), seeing that I would have to make changes there anyway—and, no, Elster and/or the IRS is not smart enough to actually automatically provide the new Steuernummer electronically.

In a first step, I opted to create a second profile, so that I could have the old data, including Steuernummer, available in Elster it self—and was met with a form without any previous data or ability to import data, having to manually add (obviously unchanged) values for my name and Identifikationsnummer* (cf. [1]), as well as the address and whatnot. (Note that while the “address and whatnot” could have changed, the old values should still have been taken over as defaults.)

*In [1], I claim that Elster does not store it. Here I was obviously wrong. However, (a) most forms in Elster make no mention of it and has no field where it could be manually or automatically altered, (b) I know for sure that I have had to enter it manually at some point in the yearly tax declaration, implying that there at least was some time when the entry in the profile had no practical effect. (Whether this is still the case, I will find out when I do the tax declaration for 2017.)

Wishing to keep my effort down, I went back to the profile listing and instead opted to edit the old profile—and was promptly met with an error message that it was not possible to have two profile-editing sessions in parallel… Amateurs!* I now discarded the first editing session and altered the original profile—for the second time: I had already changed the address to reflect the Wuppertal address when I moved. Now I had to edit the profile again due to the changing Steuernummer—that only changed because I moved (cf. [1])! (More generally, since the change of the Steuernummer will always come with some delay relative the actual address change, the tax payer is put in the dilemma of either having to alter the data in the profile twice, or of having partially outdated data in the profile until a single unified alteration is made.)

*This might have been justifiable if the same profile was edited, but here we had two different profiles, the check apparently being tied to the form used—not the entity actually being altered. This points to either an amateurish way of checking for potentially dangerous editing or an amateurish way of implementing the forms (e.g. in that using the same form simultaneously on two entities could cause data pollution, with the developers preferring to ban parallel use rather than correcting the forms).

All said and done, I went back to my VAT declarations. After a new complaint that I had two editing sessions open (this time for VAT; WTF!), I discarded the old form, and started anew in a pristine one. I tried a data import with my profile as source, but, lo and behold, the !!!OLD!!! Steuernummer was still inserted! (At which juncture I gave up. Let us see what happens in early August…)

It is as if these idiots deliberately try to maximize both the amount of work for the tax payer and the risk that he accidentally does something wrong (e.g. through not noticing that the wrong Steuernummer has been automatically added by Elster).

Written by michaeleriksson

July 7, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Some points on the German IRS

with 3 comments

Detailing everything wrong with the German tax system would take an immense effort. However, a few points relating to jurisdiction and responsibility:

  1. Despite taxes being handled almost uniformly through-out Germany, no reasonable centralization has taken place. Instead each individual town has its own “Finanzamt”*, with large cities even having several, independently working, each poorly managed and filled with incompetent pea-counters.

    *I will use the German “Finanzamt” (pl. “Finanzämter”) when referring to the individual “office”—each being a somewhat independent government agency or sub-agency. When I speak of the overall collective of various tax-related agencies and/or the system as a whole, I will in (a slight misnomer) adopt the U.S. term “IRS”.

    This does not only cause inefficiencies compared to having a single entity handling taxes*, it also leads to problems like unnecessary changes of contact persons and addresses, additional efforts for tax payers to inform and coordinate after moves, the Steuernummer complications below, and delays when different Finanzämter need to coordinate the dealings concerning one tax payer (as with my recent move to Wuppertal).

    *For reasons like economies of scale, the easier supervision, a greater ability to stream-line, a greater ability to pick good staff, whatnot; especially, when this single entity has a considerably smaller number of offices. This, obviously, with the reservation that if no honest attempt is made by the IRS to do better, the advantages might not matter…

    The main advantage that this brings is the ability to personally deliver a message, thus removing postal delays and stamp costs—but after the abolishment of paper forms, there are few or no messages where postal delays are relevant and the stamp costs are usually smaller than the cost of the extra distance compared to the next post box. A secondary advantage is the opportunity to talk to someone physical in case of problems or need for clarifications—but considering the low competence levels, the usual lack of “customer” friendliness, and the benefits of having a paper trail* for any dealing with the IRS, this is only extremely rarely worth the trouble. In any case, both of these categories could easily be handled by providing a local skeleton crew and having all the real work done centrally.

    *There have even been the odd claim that someone went to the Finanzamt in person and was given information concerning his case orally—and that the Finanzamt later refused to give the same information in writing and/or to re-iterate this information at a later date, with the attitude that “we have already explained this, so piss off”. While I have no personal experience with this, even the risk should be a great deterent.

    Historically, this might have been justifiable; for decades it definitely has not been; with the removal of paper forms it has become a travesty. At this juncture, the real reason is almost certainly that the interests of the IRS, including its local wannabe big-shots and whatnots, trump the interests of the tax payers.

  2. There are two main identifiers used for a tax payer, the “Steuernummer” and the “[steuerliche] Identifikationsnummer”. The latter is an unchanging nationwide identifier that would be perfect for keeping track of the tax payers. It is basically never used… It does not appear on correspondence from the IRS, most forms do not contain a field for it, Elster does not store it, … To my recollection, I have only ever used it for the tax declaration, where there suddenly is a request for this identifier—and I had to go through years of correspondence to find the single letter in which I had been notified about this number.*

    *The first time around: I made sure to store it in a file of my computer for subsequent need.

    No, the number that is used is the idiotic Steuernummer, which changes according to the whims of the IRS. For instance, every single time that I have moved from one city to another, I have been given a new Steuernummer, because these appear to be specific to the individual Finanzamt. When I became self-employed, there was another change, despite my not moving, for reasons that are unclear to me*.

    *Likely there are further criteria (directly or indirectly) coded into the Steuernummer, e.g. relating to a general tax classification.

    The effects of such changes include that I have to pay attention that Elster does not include the old number in a given form, that I cannot just copy-and-edit an old letter to the IRS while leaving identifiers unchanged, and that I might need to use both the new and old identifiers concurrently, when I have dealings with both the new and the old Finanzamt—not to mention the risk of error that is created by having an ever-increasing list of Steuernummer to keep track of. (In a guesstimate, I have had more than ten so far, with various moves and status changes.)

    Of course, if the tax payer accidentally uses the wrong Steuernummer the Finanzamt does not have the common sense to just look the correct one up, nor to internally translate everything to the Identifikationsnummer based on the current or historical Steuernummer. No, they send a letter that rudely demands that he uses only the new one—despite the involved problems being caused solely by IRS incompetence.

    (See also excursion at the end.)

  3. Despite this high degree of geographical dispersement, I still have (at least) two different government institutions handling my taxes (both requiring separate notifications about addresses and whatnot, both needing separate payment):

    My income (and other regular) taxes and VAT are handled by the Finanzamt of Wuppertal.

    My property taxes are handled by a department of the city of Wuppertal.

    This is the more annoying, seeing that the property taxes have a very disputable justification and that the world would be better off without them entirely. (Even compared to the general observation that fewer and lower taxes would be better.) The nonsensical nature of these taxes is demonstrated by the yearly amount of ~120 Euro for my apartment—payable in quarterly rates. For me, the additional effort is disproportionate*; for the city a significant portion of this money is lost again just to keep the the tax system it self going.

    *Not just due to the obvious extra effort, but also due to secondary complications. Last year, I had agreed with the previous owner, who had received the last annual assessment notice, that he would keep paying to the city for 2017, and I would reimburse him accordingly. (He felt that this would be easier, after having consulted the city.) Lo and behold, for the second quarterly payment, I received my own assessment and the instruction to pay directly to the city. Clearing this up and redirecting money accordingly took out a chunk of both his and my time. This year, the city kept using my Cologne address, despite my clear notification of a move, resulting in long communication delays and additional efforts to clarify why I suddenly received a very nasty letter threatening to, I kid you not, break down my apartment door in order to collect the roughly 30 Euro of the first quarterly payment. (A separate post on this and some other recent IRS problems is in planning.)

    More generally, this is both an example of problems that arise through there being too many individual entities with taxation rights, and of how the German system for money distribution between various organization levels (federation, states, cities, …) is poor. See excursion below.

Excursion on moving and an out-dated world view:
Many problems in Germany, especially where the government is concerned, could be explained by outdated ideas about how people will live their lives. For instance, if we assume that the IRS works under the premise that people only very, very rarely move from one city to another, this could help explain the reluctance to change this broken system. Ditto other unnecessary bureaucracy around moves. Similarly, if people are not “supposed” to change banks, this explains why there are so many screw-ups when someone does. Similarly, the historically very poor opening hours and the problems around meter readings/chimney sweeps/whatnot are explainable under the assumption that everyone is married and a non-working wife can handle this-and-that at any working hour. Etc. Of course, in the modern Germany, people do move and change banks, there are very many singles, and even married women often spend nine or more hours a day away from home due to work.

Excursion on Steuernummer:
The problems are likely rooted in history, because the Steuernummer existed long before the Identifikationsnummer. However, it is doubtful whether it ever truly made sense to have Steuernummer be Finanzamt-specific—and even if it did, the technical means to overcome those reasons have been present for decades. If the IRS has failed to take corresponding actions to e.g. make each Steuernummer awarded after, say, 1990 permanent and personal, this in it self is a sign of great incompetence or negligence. To boot, that forms and whatnot still use the Steuernummer is absurd—-whatever the historical situation might have been, we now do have a proper identifier! Use it!

Some remaining justification for Steuernummer could possibly be seen, were it needed to differ between the same tax payer in different roles, e.g. when working for several companies in the span of one year or when, like me, moving from (regular) employment to self-employment. However, the former is already solved, if at all needed, by a third (!) identifier, the eTIN, and the second is obviously not the case, because (in the year that I switched) I was supposed to use the new Steuernummer for both my business and my time in employment… (Note that I am still acting in a capacity as the same natural person, not as e.g. a corporation.)

As an aside, I have a fourth and a fifth identifier, both related to VAT handling. These might, however, have a greater degree of justification because this part of the system is shared with various juridical persons*, and the use of the Identifikationsnummer, Steuernummer, or similar, could be problematic.

*I am not aware of how the other numbers or their equivalents are handled for juridical persons; however, the tax system it self is sufficiently different that constraints that might apply legitimately to e.g. a corporation should not be imposed on regular in-employment tax payers.

Most likely, the true reason is that the IRS calculates the Steuernummer using semantic information and then uses that information, precluding changes. This is a beginner’s mistake: Identifiers of this type should always be kept abstract and use of any information present should be reserved for very rare exceptions. For instance, if a Steuernummer was constructed through a Finanzamt (without coordination with other parties) generating a sub-identifier unique within its own “name space” and then appending a globally unique identifier for it self, this would be legitimate. If someone later takes the Steuernummer, extracts the part that identifies the Finanzamt, and then concludes that the tax payer belongs to that Finanzamt, this is not legitimate, e.g. because such use necessitates that a tax payer who moves to the “jurisdiction” of another Finanzamt be given a new Steuernummer, e.g. because it makes it hard to move to another scheme later. Identifiers should be considered abstract numbers, once generated, and systems that use them should be built accordingly! (As I have seen again and again through my more than twenty years in IT.)

Excursion on subsidiarity and Germany as a federation:
Possible objections against centralization include an adherence to the principle of subsidiarity (in general); and that Germany is a federation (in particular), and that any reform must consider the rights of the individual states (“Länder”) relative Germany as a whole (“Bund”).

Looking at states vs. federation, the influence of the individual states on taxation is highly limited* in the first place, and I see no obvious reason why a system in which the federation collects and administrates all taxes and distributes various amounts back to the states would be impossible within the framework of the German system. (Apart from administration, this is already more-or-less what happens. Note that this might be very different in other federations.) If worst comes to worst, objections of this type could do no more than speak against a centralization beyond the state level—it would not preclude centralizing the great number of individual Finanzämter on a per state basis.

*Most and the most important taxes are all ultimately handled by the federation. The most important on the state level is likely the inheritance tax, and this is the type of tax that really should be on the federal level, in order to avoid arbitrary differences. In contrast, e.g. a traffic tax could have some legitimacy on the state (or lower level) to accommodate e.g. local geography. (Even here, however, I would see it as more advantageous to unify the tax system entirely. This especially as the justification of various taxes appears to grow smaller the more “local” they are. Consider e.g. the absurdity of tourists and other visitors having to pay an additional hotel tax in and to certain German cities: The tourists stimulate the local economy through the hotel stay, restaurant visits, shopping, museum excursions …—and are punished for coming by an arbitrary and unethical tax, in a manner that, practically speaking, amounts to racketeering.)

As for subsidiarity, the more important part is the right to local/decentralized/whatnot decision-making, which (in the specific case of taxes) is not given as things are now, and where no or little additional restrictions would apply. The lesser part is local/decentralized/whatnot execution. Here there would be a change, but not a harmful change, seeing that this is the type of task better handled centrally. If subsidiarity is used as an excuse to keep things de-centralized that should be centralized, subsidiarity becomes something negative.

Excursion on single and multiple taxing entities:
Having more than one entity that has the right of taxation over a given tax payer is unfortunate*, in general, with problems including confusion, more bureaucracy, and, at least potentially, more arbitrariness. A better system would focus on one such entity, and then have this entity distribute money as appropriate. We could, for instance, have the federation as a sole tax collector (both in terms of administration and determination), which then distributes money to the states according to some agreement, who then distribute money to counties, etc., in a trickle-down chain; or we could have a county (or an even smaller entity) collect taxes and let them “trickle up”. (I would prefer the former, however, to make the tax system as uniform as possible.)

*Some room for exceptions is present when the tax payer is legitimately touched by different jurisdictions, e.g. when someone lives on one side of a border and earns money on the other. Even here it is more a matter of a necessary evil than a good, however.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 15, 2018 at 3:50 pm

German taxes and Elster IV: Elster offline

with one comment

And yet more problems with Elster and the VAT*: As I tried to call up the corresponding web page for January’s VAT declaration, I was met with a browser error indicating that the site could not be found. A few hours** later—same thing. A few days*** later—same thing. Today—same thing. I now tried pinging the server—no response. I tried a web search to find out what was wrong—and, to my great surprise, found a functioning page.

*Cf. a previous post on a late fee and another discussing the original VAT issue. On a positive note, my complaint against the late fee was approved; on a negative, I strongly suspect that I will receive another late fee over the events of this post…

**Even a well-managed site can on occasion be temporarily unavailable. Elster is not well managed…

***With the exceptional incompetence displayed by the “IRS” so far, I would not have been the least surprised, if they were unable to bring their servers back up within an even semi-reasonable time frame, had deliberately shut them down for maintenance and failed to provide a temporary explanatory page, or similar.

Apparently, the original official site of elsteronline.de, bookmarked by me, was gone, now replaced by elster.de. The switch alone is questionable, seeing that it can lead to exactly this type of problem—however, that no corresponding message was left for even a transitional phase, that is inexcusable. (I note that, from my browser history, such a transitional phase must have been present, since previous requests appear to have been silently redirected—exactly the thing not to do.)

Elster online, my ass! Elster offline!

Written by michaeleriksson

February 18, 2018 at 8:41 pm

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German taxes and Elster III

with 2 comments

In a telling development of what prompted my original post (that I just had wasted several hours trying to use the third-rate Elster products to file my VAT):

I recently received a notification from the “IRS” that because I had exceeded the normal deadline, caused exclusively by their incompetence, they would book me a 35-Euro late fee.

They prevent me from fulfilling the rules they impose to their one-sided advantage, they waste hours of my time, they bring me to the point that I want to throw my notebook at the wall—and I have to pay them…

Of course, the complaint I just filed took another fair bit of time—and forced me to use Elster again…

I can only re-iterate that the situation is utterly inexcusable. Elster, the overall tax system, and the German IRS all need to be completely over-hauled or replaced by something better.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 7, 2018 at 4:40 pm

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