With "tax day" upon us, critics of the current filing system are staking out their usual ground and calling for reform. One of the big alternatives being pushed is "return-free filing," which, advocates say, would simplify a system that's needlessly painful and complicated. As Farhad Manjoo explains at the New York Times, the idea involves what many might view as an unsettling prospect—letting the IRS figure out your taxes. The principle is this: The government already receives information about our financial activity from employers, banks, etc., so why not have the IRS fill out our tax forms using this data and send it to us around tax time? If we agree, we're done. If not, we can choose to do our own taxes.
Backers say that, relative to other countries, our tax-filing system is onerous, and they blame the folks at TurboTax and the like for aggressive lobbying to keep it that way. Those companies, on the other hand, as well as other opponents of return-free filing, say it's crazy to trust the IRS to look out for taxpayers' best interests. Given the money involved, expect the same debate to being playing out next tax day and those in the foreseeable future. But maybe "tax day" is a misnomer anyway, writes Evan Horowitz at the Boston Globe. "Refund day" might work better, considering that "three out of every four families in the United States actually get money back from the IRS this time of year," he writes. "For them, tax day is an opportunity to let the government know that they’ve already covered their obligations—chiefly through paycheck withholding—and they’re ready to settle up with the government."