Monday, January 23, 2012

Counterproductive American Express

I have grown used to the fact that American Express provides me with a summary of all of my charges at the end of the year.  I am pleased to see that I can now download that summary as a PDF;  and this is definitely a good thing, because the “interactive” version on their Web site is one of those products of counterproductive design thinking.  Presumably, the clients who make the heaviest use of this summary are those, like myself, who need to gather and classify all the necessary numbers for filling out their tax forms.  Unfortunately, no one on the design team seems to have bothered to take the trouble to figure out what would be a useful set of categories consistent with those relevant to Form 1040.

Probably the greatest aggravation comes in pulling together those expenses that would qualify for medical deduction.  You would think that “medical” would be a major category;  but this is not the case.  So far I have found three separate categories, each of which contribute to my medical expenses.  “Pharmacies” is a subcategory of “Merchandise & Supplies” (which you cannot see on the online summary sheet, because the space for subcategories runs out when it collides with the “Total” line, meaning that the last subcategory you see is “Clothing Stores”).  “Health Care Services,” on the other hand, is listed under “Business Services” (which is consistent with our “industrial” view of health care).  Finally, Medicare payments show up in “Government Services,” which is a subcategory of “Other.”  The bottom line is that I have to do my own filtering from the summary to get the numbers I need.  The good news is that at least I can use the search tool on the PDF version and see each of my results in its appropriate context.

That “Other” category is also a source of amusement.  My biggest single American Express charge every year is the renewal of the San Francisco Opera subscription for my wife and myself.  I was thus amused to see that my grand total of “Entertainment” expenses was $0.00.  It turns out that the Opera charge was classified under “Other” in the “Charities” subcategory.  I’m not quite sure how the Opera would feel about this classification.  One thing is certain:  Anyone who thinks that they can just copy numbers from this form into their tax returns will probably be opening themselves up for an invitation to an audit!  Do we take this as a sign of what American Express thinks about their clients these days?

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