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Tags: direct | federal | file
OPINION

Tax-Prep Firms Overcharge Consumers, Then Spill Their Data

e filing of taxes online and or telephonically

(Pkstudio/Dreamstime.com)

John Burnett By Thursday, 05 October 2023 02:08 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.  Benjamin Franklin

Over 200 years later, Benjamin Franklin's quote still rings true.

While Americans have resigned themselves to the certainty of taxes, they have not yet resigned themselves to the arduous task of filing them every April.

For decades, private tax-preparation companies have stepped in to offer assistance with filing annual taxes, but they have done so overcharging and helping themselves to private, sensitive taxpayer data.

This predatory practice has gone on far too long.

It's well past time that we implement a free direct file system, saving families across the country time and money while keeping their private financial information safe and secure. 

At a time when budgets are already stretched thin, tax preparers charge low-income and working-class families to file their taxes.

On average, every person spends about eight hours and $140 out-of-pocket to complete their returns, an unnecessary expense for something we all must do — especially when many of these tax returns are simple and straightforward.

In fact, I have complex tax preparation that includes stock trades, LLC operations, and more, and my tax preparation fees are often less than some working-class folks are charged.

The rate tax preparers charge is even more concerning when we examine how these companies handle private financial information.

Approximately one year ago, a public report from the Verge (a technology, news, and media website) revealed that major tax preparation companies — including TaxSlayer, H&R Block, and TaxAct — were sharing sensitive taxpayer data with big tech firms, Meta and Google.

Tax preparers used visitor tracking technology on their websites to allegedly send tens of millions of Americans' personal information to the tech industry without consent or appropriate disclosures.

Such privacy invasion extends to detailed information on users' income, filing status, refund amounts, and dependents' college scholarship amounts.

Hence, the gross violation of taxpayer privacy proves that these companies have always put profit above all else.

Adding insult to injury, tax preparers then use the money they make off taxpayers — and the money they make selling taxpayer data — to lobby against any reforms that would simplify the American tax system.

According to OpenSecrets, leading tax preparer companies have dedicated $90 million to lobbying against the free direct file program and other similar ideas since the initial inception of "free file" programs in 2003, which required companies to provide some filing services free of charge.

They have even resorted to misleading social equity arguments about the government-run Direct File to undercut the program's viability.

A self-perpetuating cycle of corporate greed must end if we want any semblance of fairness in our nation's tax system.

Luckily, there is a plan in the works that would provide the taxpayer the ability to file directly with the IRS.

A Direct File system is currently being tested at the federal level.

If all goes according to plan — and the shady tax preparer lobbying efforts are rightly thwarted — the IRS will be able to offer a free filing option for all interested Americans.

Private companies have shown that they cannot be trusted with our data, and corporate interests are again standing in the way of what works for most Americans.

With a fully realized direct file system, taxpayers would not be forced to use third-party preparers and would instead be able to file directly with the IRS for free.

A simple, direct, free tax filing will save Americans money, time, and headaches.

Let's get it done.

John Burnett is the managing director and founder of 1 Empire Group, a consulting firm specializing in business development, financing, growth strategies, process re-engineering, risk management, and strategic communications. John is a business executive with 20 plus years of experience and has held leadership roles at Citi, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and S&P Global. He is also an adjunct assistant professor at New York University.Click Here Now. 

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JohnBurnett
For decades, private tax-preparation companies have stepped in to offer assistance with filing annual taxes, but they have done so overcharging and helping themselves to private, sensitive taxpayer data.
direct, federal, file
645
2023-08-05
Thursday, 05 October 2023 02:08 PM
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