How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing
Imagine filing your income taxes in five minutes—and for free. You’d open up a prefilled return, see what the government thinks you owe, make any needed changes and be done. The miserable annual IRS shuffle, gone.
It’s already a reality in Denmark, Sweden, and Spain. The government-prepared return would estimate your taxes using information your employer and bank already send it. Advocates say tens of millions of taxpayers could use such a system each year, saving them a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time, according to one estimate.
The idea, known as “return-free filing,” would be a voluntary alternative to hiring a tax preparer or using commercial tax software. The concept has been around for decades and has been endorsed by both President Ronald Reagan and a campaigning President Obama.
“This is not some pie-in-the-sky that’s never been done before,” said William Gale, codirector of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It’s doable, feasible, implementable, and at a relatively low cost.”
So why hasn’t it become a reality?
Well, for one thing, it doesn’t help that it’s been opposed for years by the company behind the most popular consumer tax software—Intuit, maker of TurboTax. Conservative tax activist Grover Norquist and an influential computer industry group also have fought return-free filing.