From Can to Should

[There is a] difference between what you have a right to do, and what is the right thing to do.

—Potter Stewart,U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Everyone loves tax time, that special time of year when we sit down with our loved ones and measure our financial commitment to society. Around the world, people throw joyous tax parties, where we celebrate our dedication to funding a fair, just, and honorable society. Feasts are made, wine uncorked, and people dance with gleeful abandon in appreciation of society's goodness.

Well … maybe not.

I pay taxes in the United States, so that's the system I know the best. According to U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates, taxpayers in the United States spend about 45 hours on average on paperwork per tax return filed each year, very little of it, I'm sure, in celebration.1 Every hour requires a small dialogue with yourself. As distasteful as it might be, recall it for a moment. You consider each receipt. Can you deduct it? Should you report it? Can you ignore it? What if you alter the number a little to your benefit? As you massage the numbers, do you quietly wrestle with the likelihood of being audited versus the potential gain of a little inaccuracy? Does the stress of potential discovery add an additional, nonmonetary cost to the process? Do you carry that concern with you, even when you are not actively engaged in the process? How about the emotional costs? Do you argue with your spouse or partner, or stress ...

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