Intuit (TurboTax) Spends Millions To Keep Us From Filing Taxes Quickly And For Free

Here’s something to keep in mind as you wait in line at 11:30 PM on April 15th: filing your taxes could be so, so much easier. Bills have been put before Congress that would let taxpayers choose to have the Internal Revenue Service calculate their taxes due for them, and send them a bill or cut a refund check accordingly. Only there are companies lobbying to keep things exactly as they are. The biggest spenders aren’t accounting firms, or even Big Tax Cat. It’s Intuit, the maker of popular tax-filing program TurboTax. The company has spent more than $11 million lobbying to keep tax returns around forever.

Return-free filing wouldn’t be mandatory. “If you don’t trust the government, you don’t have to do it,” ever-helpful economist and official Friend of Consumerist Austan Goolsbee told ProPublica. You could still file a return or hire a CPA if you really wanted to, but for most people who have regular salaried jobs, a few kids and a mortgage, and take the standard deduction, there wouldn’t be a point.

Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist and other proponents of smaller government have suggested that sending out bills instead of letting taxpayers calculate their own taxes would make it easier for the federal government to slip tax hikes past a lazy, unobservant public.

We sent Consumerist’s own Tax Dad this article, and he told us that in the grand scheme of things, his industry doesn’t need to exist. “It does not make sense that taxpayers should have to pay perhaps hundreds of dollars to give IRS their money,” he wrote. “The old tax joke is that IRS could just send a postcard with 3 simple questions: 1. How much did you make? 2. How much of that do you have left? 3. Send it to us!”

California experimented with return-free filing for state income taxes in 2005. The ReadyReturn program didn’t take off, but still exists. Fewer than 100,000 returns came in that way last year.

How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing [ProPublica]