How Easy Is It to Find Tax Information on State Websites?

April 12, 2013

It’s April, which means Americans are rushing to finish federal and state income tax returns for 2012. Those who file a paper return rely on forms and rate tables posted online by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state revenue departments. Even taxpayers who file returns with the help of paid tax preparers or computer software may make use of instructional information provided on state websites. Employers, for instance, need to know 2013 tax rates now for withholding purposes.

Consequently, we decided to evaluate how easily available this information is on the websites of state tax agencies (often a revenue department, department of taxation, or tax commissioner). We conducted two tests in March 2013:

  • We counted how many clicks it took to find 2012 income tax rates from the agency’s website homepage. In five states (Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and North Carolina), it takes taxpayers five clicks to find this information from the homepage. Taxpayers in three states (Colorado, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania) can get it in two clicks.
     
  • We assessed whether the state had made available (and findable in a spot check by our analyst) the 2012 and 2013 tax rates, tax table, and tax forms. While nearly all states had most of this information, our analysts were able to find all of this information only in five states (Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia; some of these states have one-rate taxes, making tax tables unnecessary). The vast majority of state revenue websites do not yet provide 2013 tax rate information even though 2013 income tax is currently being withheld from taxpayers’ paychecks.

Transparency can be a difficult thing to quantify, and we admit that these two tests are not a perfect proxy. However, poor transparency of basic tax information imposes real costs on taxpayers. The time and money an individual spends complying with taxes prevents them from productively spending these resources elsewhere. Ideally, a taxpayer should be able to quickly and easily locate and understand all taxes owed and with that information make informed allocative decisions and budgeting plans.

We are consequently pleased to recognize the Colorado Department of Revenue, the Illinois Department of Revenue, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, the Utah State Tax Commission, and the Virginia Department of Taxation for passing both tests (three clicks or less for finding information and having all 2012 and 2013 information available online). We hope all state tax authorities will follow their lead in making basic information easily accessible to taxpayers. These five states have demonstrated a Committment to State Tax Information Transparency.


 

Table 1: Number of Clicks Required to Locate 2012 State Individual Income Tax Rates on State Website (as of March 18, 2013)

State
Number of Clicks
Indiana 5
Kentucky 5
Minnesota 5
New Jersey 5
North Carolina 5
Alabama 4
Arizona 4
Iowa 4
Maryland 4
Montana 4
Nebraska 4
New York 4
Ohio 4
Oklahoma 4
Oregon 4
Wisconsin 4
District of Columbia 4
Alaska 3
Arkansas 3
California 3
Connecticut 3
Georgia 3
Hawaii 3
Idaho 3
Illinois 3
Kansas 3
Louisiana 3
Maine 3
Michigan 3
Mississippi 3
Missouri 3
New Mexico 3
North Dakota 3
Rhode Island 3
South Carolina 3
Utah 3
Vermont 3
Virginia 3
West Virginia 3
Colorado 2
Massachusetts 2
Pennsylvania 2

Source: Tax Foundation analysis. States without an individual income tax are not listed.
 

Table 2: Availability of State Individual Income Tax Forms, Tax Rates, and Tax Tables on State Website (as of March 1, 2013)

State
2012 rates/ tax rate schedule
2012 tax table
2012 form
2013 rates/ tax rate schedule
2013 tax table
2013 Estimated Tax form/ voucher
Total
Colorado yes n.a. yes yes n.a. yes 6
Illinois yes n.a. yes yes n.a. yes 6
Pennsylvania yes n.a. yes yes n.a. yes 6
Utah yes n.a. yes yes n.a. n.a. 6
Virginia yes yes yes yes yes yes 6
California yes yes yes no yes yes 5
Indiana yes n.a. yes yes n.a. no 5
Iowa yes yes yes yes no yes 5
Louisiana yes yes yes yes no yes 5
Maine yes yes yes yes no yes 5
Massachusetts yes n.a. yes no n.a. yes 5
Michigan yes n.a. yes no n.a. yes 5
Minnesota yes yes yes yes no yes 5
New Mexico yes yes yes yes no yes 5
North Dakota yes yes yes yes no yes 5
District of Columbia yes yes yes yes no yes 5
Arkansas yes yes yes no no yes 4
Connecticut no yes yes no yes yes 4
Hawaii yes yes yes no no yes 4
Idaho yes no yes yes no yes 4
Kansas yes yes yes no no yes 4
Kentucky yes yes yes no no yes 4
Maryland yes yes yes no no yes 4
Mississippi yes no yes yes no yes 4
Nebraska yes yes yes no no yes 4
New Jersey yes yes yes no no yes 4
New York yes yes yes no no yes 4
North Carolina yes yes yes no no yes 4
Ohio yes yes yes no no yes 4
Rhode Island yes yes yes no no yes 4
Vermont yes yes yes no no yes 4
West Virginia yes yes yes no no yes 4
Alabama no yes yes no no yes 3
Arizona no yes yes no no yes 3
Delaware no yes yes no no yes 3
Missouri no yes yes no no yes 3
Montana yes no yes no no yes 3
Oklahoma yes no yes no no yes 3
Oregon no yes yes no no yes 3
South Carolina no yes yes no no yes 3
Wisconsin yes no yes no no yes 3
Georgia no no yes no no yes 2

Source: Tax Foundation analysis. States without an individual income tax are not listed. For tax rates or tax schedules, states marked “yes” make the information easily available on a webpage. States are marked “no” if they only provide this information within a tax form, within the tax form instructions, in a departmental newsletter, or within a statutory code excerpt.

 

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