Politicians have promised to make tax filing easier for years. Steve Forbes ran for president with a call for a flat tax and repeatedly suggested that the federal income tax code is an “incomprehensible, opportunity-destroying, corrupting monstrosity.” The Trump administration even unveiled a “postcard-sized” tax form that would make it much easier for most Americans to do their own taxes.

So why are US taxes still so complicated?

The answer is that it benefits professional registrants. Many of these organizations have successfully lobbied against the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) efforts to streamline the process. When Congress ordered the IRS to provide low-income taxpayers with free tax preparation, resulting in the “free file” of 2002, the IRS had to agree not to compete with the private sector on the free tax preparation market.

The tax preparation lobby is so powerful that in 2019 Congress attempted to legally ban the IRS from providing free online tax preparation services.

Turbo indeed!

According to a 2020 report from ProPublica, Intuit earns $1.6 billion in operating profit from its TurboTax unit. Free File and similar programs pose a significant threat to company profits.

The same goes for H&R Block, which in 2016 earned $3.1 billion a year.

There is a lot of money in tax preparation services. A portion of the revenue generated by H&R Block and Intuit is then plowed back into lobbying efforts to keep the tax code unnecessarily complicated. Since 1998, these companies and other tax preparers have spent millions, and those efforts have paid off.

A better way?

Some legislators have seen our complex tax code as a waste of time and resources. The average American currently spends thirteen hours doing their taxes and paying $200 to tax preparation companies, according to estimates from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), NBC News reported in 2017.

Other countries have found a way to make the process easier.

Some European countries have opted for pre-filled returns, which include an annual report that typically takes fifteen minutes or less for taxpayers to complete. Such a system is unlikely to have any chance of passing in the United States.

One reason is that even anti-tax groups would disagree, as it might make Americans less unhappy with their taxes. Many Americans now accept that taxes are necessary to pay for roads, schools, and to run the country. If taxes were easier to file, there might not be so much resentment. That’s why groups including Americans for Tax Reform aren’t eager to see the process made easier.

Given the forces at work and the fact that the IRS is now understaffed and has some of the most antiquated computer systems in the federal government, tax filing is unlikely to be simplified any time soon. .

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He writes regularly on military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear, including A gallery of military hairstyleswhich is available on Amazon.com.

Picture: Reuters.