At some point during your annual slog through the tax filing system, you might have wondered why the process is so complicated. Filing taxes takes the average taxpayer eight hours, another workday’s worth of labor that goes straight to the government on top of the wages you already send in.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wondered the same thing, leading her to propose prefilled tax returns from the IRS. On the 2016 campaign trail, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, floated the idea of filing your taxes on the back of a postcard. President Barack Obama talked about simplifying taxes by prefilling the forms, and so did President Ronald Reagan 30 years prior.

Proposals like these have bipartisan support, so why don’t they go anywhere? The tax prep industry has a vested interest in keeping taxes complicated enough that you will pay someone else to help you file them.

Back in 2002, 12 of the largest tax prep companies joined together in an organization they called the Free File Alliance, which entered into a partnership with the IRS. The Free File Alliance agreed to allow 70% of taxpayers the option to file for free. In return, the government promised tax prep companies that “the IRS will not compete with the Consortium in providing free, online tax return preparation and filing services to taxpayers.”

In practice, however, only about 3% of eligible filers use Free File through the alliance. Members of the alliance want paying customers, so they purposefully make the free options nearly impossible to access. The CEO of, Timur Taluy, told a ProPublica reporter that the option to file for free “is not hidden.” Yet when that reporter handed Taluy his phone and asked him to find the free filing option on his website, Taluy couldn’t do it.

The average tax filer pays $110 in prep fees, leading to billions of dollars in profit for tax prep companies. This is all well and good if we genuinely need software or experts to file our taxes. But filing our taxes can and should be much easier than it is right now. The government is propping up this industry by keeping taxes complicated.

Much of the time spent on tax filing is spent filling in data that the IRS already knows about you. If you’re an employee who receives a W-2 form, your company is required by law to report your income to the government. The IRS already knows your income, how much has been withheld from your paychecks throughout the year, and how much Social Security and Medicare tax you paid.

Because the IRS has all of these pieces of information, it should not, in theory, need us to provide them. The agency could send us all pre-filled tax forms, and then we could go through our forms and make any necessary changes, and our taxes could get filed after a fraction of the time and cost that we spend on this endeavor now. Even if the tax code remains every bit as convoluted as it is today, the IRS can make the filing process easier for everyone.

The Free File Alliance is terrified that a simplified tax filing system would eliminate the need for their products and services. To protect their business interests, members of the alliance successfully lobbied against a California proposal to prefill state tax forms and convinced Virginia to replace its free tax-filing website with their own tax software options, many of which come at a cost.

It is not wrong for a company to make money by providing a service. It is wrong for a company to use the system to intentionally create a problem that can only be solved by patronizing its business.

Suppose the USPS decided to stop delivering mail to mailboxes and instead dropped a massive pile of mail in the middle of every county and left it to the people to sort out. Demand for other nonterrible shipping services would skyrocket, and we would pay private companies a hefty sum to do what the government neglected. The shipping companies would lobby the USPS to continue this disorganized and unhelpful practice, preventing the government from doing its job and keeping us paying the price indefinitely.

There is always the chance that the government will make errors on prefilled tax forms, just like mail gets incorrectly delivered fairly often. Every individual should have the right to review and edit their tax returns before filing. This should be as simple as writing in the accurate number yourself — the exact same thing you do now for every box on your tax forms.

Even if there are errors in the prefilled forms, tax filers will spend less time fixing those mistakes than the time it would have taken them to fill out the forms in the first place.

It is long past time to realize that the Free File Alliance makes tax filing harder and more expensive, not easier and cheaper. This unholy alliance is harming the very people it purports to help. The IRS ought to end its partnership with the alliance and instead make every taxpayer’s life easier by sharing the information that it has already.

Angela Morabito (@AngelaLMorabito) writes about politics, media, ethics, and culture. She holds both a bachelor's and master's degree from Georgetown University.