The most commonly known fact about tax returns is their deadline, April 17, but it’s likely to slip the minds of even the most respectable adults. As Tax Day quickly approaches, many people find deciphering numbers and filing forms to be a hassle, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
If students could learn to file their own taxes in the classroom, they could be better prepared in their financial futures.
Learning new skills, no matter what they might be, certainly helps adolescent brain development, but not everything taught in school is necessary. For example, playing the recorder is a common activity in many elementary schools in the U.S.
It’s not to say that the current curriculum taught in schools is useless and should be disposed of, but tax courses should be mandatory to ensure students are learning skills that will benefit them long after graduation.
With so many different lines, boxes and pages, taxes can appear daunting to anyone, but this fear is overly dramaticized.
A teacher at Osborne High School in Georgia offered a crash course on taxes to show how easily they can be taught and understood. To pass a tax preparation test, his students were told to help less fortunate people in the community by doing their taxes for free. According to one of the clients interviewed in a CNNMoney video, the taxes were filled out correctly every time.
A better education starts with teaching students the skills that will have long-term benefits. Despite common misconceptions, tax forms aren’t extremely difficult to figure out. To remedy this issue, teachers need to be willing to take the time to explain the process, but that can’t happen if educators aren’t motivated to incorporate basic financial skills into curricula.
Only 12 percent of elementary and high school classes currently teach forms of financial education, and 78 percent of teachers believe they need more appropriate financial curriculum, according to a 2016 study from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a tax and consulting service.
“Educators see the value of teaching students to budget, prepare for the future and become better financial decision makers,” according to the same study. “But educators need more support to adequately teach these skills.”
Some people argue that there are more important financial skills that should be taught in schools, like managing credit card debt or establishing a retirement plan, especially because taxes only have to be filed once a year.
This may be true, but learning to do taxes not only saves time and stress, but it can save a significant amount of money over a lifetime. Paying a tax preparer for a standard 1040 form averages anywhere from $152 to $261, and possibly more depending on the form you need, according to the IRS.
There’s also the belief that teaching adolescents how to do taxes before they even obtain jobs may end up confusing them even more. Sixty-two percent of teachers surveyed by PwC said financial education isn’t seen as critical for college and career readiness.
However, learning any new concept will provoke confusion and it’s better to educate students at a younger age while they are more receptive to new information. Eighty-six percent of teens said they wanted the opportunity to learn more about financial education in school before they had to do so in real life, according to a 2011 study by Charles Schwab.
Many adults today weren’t taught how to do their taxes in school. When asked about personal finance questions related to federal income tax returns, the average U.S. adult scored about 50 percent, according to a survey from NerdWallet, a website that provides personal finance advice. If taxes were worth a letter grade, adults across the nation would be receiving F’s.
But at least everyone knows how to play the recorder, right?