4 out of 10 Americans had accountants prepare their taxes primarily because they believe that that’s the way to get the largest refund
Tax preparation is the process of preparing tax returns, often income tax returns, often for a person other than the taxpayer, and generally for compensation. Taxes may be done by the taxpayer with or without the help of tax preparation software and online services. Tax preparation may also be done by a licensed professional such as an attorney, certified public accountant or enrolled agent, or by an unlicensed tax preparation business. Because United States income tax laws are considered to be complicated, many taxpayers seek outside assistance with taxes (53.5% of individual tax returns in 2016 were filed by paid preparers). The remainder of this article describes tax preparation by someone other than the taxpayer.
Some states have licensing requirements for anyone who prepares tax returns for a fee and some for fee-based preparation of state tax returns only. The Free File Alliance provides free tax preparation software for individuals with less than $58,000 of adjusted gross income for tax year 2010. People who make more than $58,000 can use Free File Fillable Forms, electronic versions of U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) paper forms.
The cost of preparing and filing all business and personal tax returns is estimated to be $100 to $150 billion each year. According to a 2005 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the efficiency cost of the tax system—the output that is lost over and above the tax itself—is between $240 billion and $600 billion per year. For tax return preparers, Americans spent roughly 20% of the amount collected in taxes (estimating the compliance costs and efficiency costs is difficult because neither the government nor taxpayers maintain regular accounts of these costs). Tax businesses have been plagued with controversies over Refund anticipation loans. Intuit, the developer of tax preparation software TurboTax, has lobbied to prevent the IRS from setting up a Web portal for electronic tax filing. This lobbying resulted in the introduction of the proposed Taxpayer First Act of 2019.