Whether you do them yourself or pass off the headache to someone else, Tax Day is never fun. But it could be worse: You could be a professional athlete.
Sure, professional athletes pay a boatload in taxes every year -- because they make mountains of cash playing games. No one's feeling bad for Tom Brady, and rightly so. It's not the annual tax bill that puts a damper on the whole pro sports experience -- it's the number of tax returns those players have to file.
Want to play Major League Baseball? Cool, no problem. Just be ready to file a dozen or so state returns every year. Because it's not all Cristal and caviar for our sports stars: Per IRS rules, they have to file a tax return in every state where they are paid to play a game.
Here's a tip: Don't be like Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jared Hughes. As a rookie, Hughes decided to file his taxes on his own. He had no idea what he was getting himself into. It wasn't just the Pennsylvania state return -- he wound up filing in Indiana, Ohio, California and a slew of other states where he'd earned a game check.
"It was probably a solid week of logging on to TurboTax every night to try figuring it out," Hughes tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Immediately after that, I realized it was time to get an accountant."
Every professional athlete has the same problem. MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL -- when you play in a new state for the first time that calendar year, you've just added another state return you have to file come tax season. The same goes for minor-league players and athletes in other sports, like track and field, UFC, even swimming.
Some sports have it better than others. NFL teams only play eight regular-season games on the road, and if you're a California team, you might only play seven or six games out of your home state. But then think about MLB, with its 81 regular-season road games -- plus spring training -- each day on the road adding new expenses to track, taxes to withhold, and state returns to file.
You would think that states would agree to cut visiting athletes a break and save them the paperwork of having to file. After all, then those states would double their income tax from the players residing within their state -- over time, the savings would more or less equal out, at least in theory.
In reality, the circumstances are almost opposite: Most cities gouge visiting athletes that come to play a road game. It's not just by forcing them to file state tax returns, either: More than 21 MLB cities, for example, have what's known as a "Jock Tax." The fee is exactly what it sounds like: If you're a professional athlete, you'll pay an extra 3 percent to 7 percent in income tax just because you're competing on the road.
Jock taxes became very popular in the 1990s, when lawmakers across the country realized they could rake in huge sums of money for charging athletes over appearances they had no control over. If you're a New York Knick who objects to California's jock tax, what are you going to do -- tell Phil Jackson you're sitting out a West Coast swing against the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors and Kings? Lawmakers hammer them because they can, and athletes pay up because they have no other choice.
While teams typically deduct those taxes from game checks, saving athletes the hassle of calculating the amounts owed for dozens of road appearances, athletes are still stuck with filing those state returns. And with each return, there are countless deductions: Business meals, personal training, personal assistants, additional travel expenses not covered by the team.
One exception to this madness: Canada. Thanks to a tax treaty between the two countries, which covers a number of tax considerations including preventing double-taxation, athletes traveling north to play games in Canada are exempt from being taxed by the country.
Of course, athletes could always simplify things by fudging the numbers. Forget about filing for Tennessee, because who cares? Or maybe inflate your expenses to get out from under Pittsburgh's 6 percent jock tax.
It's a nice fantasy. But remember: Professional athletes are not like you and me. As one tax expert explains to USA Today:
"These guys get audited like crazy."