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OPINION

Advantages of Tax E-file Outweigh Risks

an i r s ten forty form with a calculator some twenty dollar bills and a smartphone with e file written on it
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Paul F. deLespinasse By Friday, 23 February 2024 10:23 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

The Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed warning people not to e-file their tax returns. The column claimed that e-filing is especially dangerous.

If the comments I read are a decent sample, reader reactions were overwhelmingly negative. Several of them asked the same question I posed to myself: Why did the Journal's opinion editors publish this piece?

I recently commended The Wall Street Journal for keeping news reporting entirely separate from its opinion pages. Its opinion pages make it look like a wholly owned subsidiary of oil and gas interests, but the news division had published one of the best reports on the future of green energy that I have seen in major outlets.

Oil and gas corporations probably have no special interest in whether people submit tax returns on paper or electronically.

While the commentary's author may sincerely believe what he wrote, I don't think that it is true that e-filing is especially risky. Although exceptionally cautious, I have been filing electronically for many years, with absolutely no problems.

Paper filing has risks of its own, including the theft of checks sent in by taxpayers and of refunds mailed out by the IRS. Although we ultimately received it, my wife and I once had to wait 10 months after our refund got lost either at the IRS or at the Post Office. That was before e-filing came in.

There is no way I can tell what motivated the Journal's opinion editors to publish this column. But my strong suspicion is that they hoped the piece would bog the IRS down in coping with paper submissions.

Electronic returns do not require much human attention. IRS computers, outdated though they may be, can easily compare declared income with information sent in by employers, banks and other investment firms.

They can automatically send tax refunds directly to people's bank accounts or transfer money from those accounts for those who owe additional taxes. Paper submissions require all of this to be done instead by IRS employees.

Who benefits when IRS employees are inundated with paperwork and have less time to audit wealthy individuals and corporations? Precisely those individuals and corporations that are intentionally cheating and underpaying their taxes.

Who is hurt? Honest taxpayers, rich or poor, who are paying what they owe but who also must make up the deficit left by their crooked compatriots.

Congressional Republicans, hyperventilating over purported fear that the recently increased appropriation for the IRS would be used to hassle small taxpayers, have persistently tried to "save money" by reducing the money for the IRS.

This is a strange way to "save" money, since it reduces the ability of the IRS to go after fat cats who have been cheating. Every extra dollar the IRS spends auditing them produces several dollars of additional revenue.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but I suspect the real concern with these Republican Congress members is to protect campaign donations from the cheating fat cats.

Political donations are a great deal for the tax cheaters, who donate only a small part of their tax savings. It is a good deal for the politicians who protect them by hobbling the ability of the IRS to audit them. It is just not a good deal for honest taxpayers.

Wall Street Journal opinion columns do tend to favor Republican perspectives.

Whether they intended to or not, the opinion editors at the Journal would be protecting the tax cheats if many readers took the warning about e-filing seriously. Fortunately, if the critical comments the article evoked are any indication, most readers didn't.

Once again this year we submitted our federal and state tax returns electronically. Within a day we were notified that our returns had been accepted. When we mailed our taxes in, we never were sure where things stood.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981. His most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon and other states. Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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PaulFdeLespinasse
Electronic returns do not require much human attention. IRS computers, outdated though they may be, can easily compare declared income with information sent in by employers, banks and other investment firms.
taxes, e-file
738
2024-23-23
Friday, 23 February 2024 10:23 AM
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