An investigation of the effects of complexity in federal income tax laws on the compliance of nonresident students

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Virginia Tech


This research explores the impact of complexity in federal income tax laws on taxpayer compliance. The primary research question is: Is complexity in the tax law associated with noncompliance? The research is unique in that previous work has not yet demonstrated an a priori circumstance in which taxpayers do not comply with the law when compliance would be in their economic self-interest.

"Economic self-interest" is narrowly construed in this study, being defined as an individual's utility for saving tax dollars. "Complexity" is operationalized by the system of nonresident taxation. A situation is investigated wherein a set of taxpayers do not comply, when there is complexity in the tax law, even though compliance would reduce their tax liability. Examining compliance in this setting renders it unlikely that the confound opportunity to evade is related to observed noncompliance. The results indicate complexity is the key explanatory variable for noncompliance found in this study.