Filing taxes via cell phone: Not just a dream

Sweden's tax authority will prepare citizens' tax forms, and all they have to do is send a text message to confirm the calculations. But there's a catch.

Open a new text message, enter your Social Security number and a security code sent to you by mail, and zip it off to the Department of the Treasury. Your income taxes are now filed.

Sound like a dream? It's not.

This is how lots of Swedish people will file their income taxes in May, as they have for the last five years. So what's the downside?

What Swedes actually do with their cell phone is sign a tax declaration that has already been prepared by the country's tax authority, officially called Skatteverket. It already knows everything about Swedish taxpayers' income--from a range of sources.

Banks, employers, financial institutions, and condo boards all have to file details about salaries, loans, funds, and properties each January.

Taxpayers can only sign their forms via text (the number's 71144) if they accept all the Skatteverket's calculations and if--to the great joy of the agency--they renounce all deductions. (Most Swedish taxpayers make few deductions, however, as the rules on deductions are quite restrictive. The most common deduction would be commuting costs, and it can only be made if the cheapest possible way to reach the workplace exceeds $1,000 per year.)

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This saves so much work for the tax authority that declarations are now filed in May, whereas the deadline for the old paper forms used to be February.

Taxpayers who claim deductions or have a somewhat more complicated tax situation involving, for example, a small company, must do it the long way. Today that means filling in forms online at the Skatteverket's Web site.

Like the new Free File Fillable Forms feature in the U.S. this year, no payment is needed.

Furthermore, the Swedish online forms already contain the same details that cell phone users can accept with a text message, so users only need to change and add what they want.

Signing is via digital certificate that might be stored on the taxpayer's hard drive or in a chip on his or her debit card. These certificates are also valid for other governmental and public services, such as accessing the national vehicle registry or applying for various things, such as public-school entry or permits for restaurant owners.

One step ahead of Sweden, though, is the tiny Baltic nation of Estonia with just over 1 million inhabitants, just across the Baltic Sea.

The Estonians are believed to be the first in the world to be able to vote for a national election online in 2005. And last December, the Estonian parliament approved a bill that will let citizens vote via mobile phones equipped with electronic IDs in the next parliamentary elections in 2011.

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About the author

    Mats Lewan, IT and telecom editor at Swedish technology weekly Ny Teknik, has joined CNET News as a 2009 fellow with Stanford University's Innovation Journalism program. E-mail Mats.

     

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