With millions spent in lobbying Turbotax and H&R Block ensure filing taxes is more complicated than it has to be. Why support this?
The deadline for filing taxes is coming up soon and I haven’t quite found the time to sit down and get it done. Why not? Well, like just about everyone else in the country I find the process onerous and more than a bit tedious. Who can I blame for this annual annoyance? TurboTax.
Most would point to the IRS or Congress for making our tax code overly complex. But looking one step further, at who is pulling the strings behind these institutions and it’s clear that tax preparation companies are the real culprits.
Dylan Matthews at Vox recently put out an open call to boycott the leading tax preparation software, Turbotax. You probably recognize Turbotax by their countless ads currently running online, on television, and in print. Or perhaps because you’re one of the 30 million people who’ve used their service. They want to stress how much easier it is to file your taxes with them than trying to do it on your own. And that’s probably true—I’ve used their product and it worked fine. [pullquote]Turbotax’s parent company, Intuit, spent $13 million lobbying congress from 2011 to 2015 in an effort to oppose automatic tax filing. [/pullquote]
However, it’s what they’re not saying in their ads that might make you want to join in on the boycott: They spend boatloads of lobbying dollars to ensure filing taxes is a pain in the ass.
Just how much are we talking? To give you just a small taste of how bad it is, consider that Turbotax’s parent company, Intuit, spent $13 million lobbying congress from 2011 to 2015 in an effort to oppose automatic tax filing. Of course, Turbotax is not alone. With them is H&R Block, another company I’ve used in the past. They spent over $7 million in just the past five years. And that’s just lobbying, not including campaign contributions.
Now you might be thinking, like I did, wait there’s a way to make tax time wicked easy? Yes, and it’s been around for decades with support ranging from Obama to Reagan. It’s called “The Simple Return” and simply requires the IRS to send you a pre-filled out return using the documents they already have. Depending on your deductions, you might have to do one more step or you might be done just by sending it back. Then you’re done. Seriously, finding a stamp might be the hardest part.
I can’t help lamenting how much less everyone would hate paying taxes if it wasn’t annoying. And I can’t help noting it’s not just these companies who are benefiting that people hate taxes. Like say, the anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist who famously wants to shrink government to the size he can “drag it in the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub”. Or the millionaires and billionaires who benefit from the byzantine system of loopholes that enable them to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Taxes, it’s been said, are the price we pay for living in a civilized society. There’s no reason the way we pay taxes shouldn’t be civilized…and simple.
So, let me add one more voice of support for Dylan Matthews’ crusade against Turbotax. The boycott may or may not work, but I’m not giving a dime to the company that is actively working to make filing taxes harder. You shouldn’t either.
Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is the co-author of the recent study, Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us.