Leaving Millions in the Dark on Tax Day

Americans are no doubt aware that today is the deadline to file our taxes.

While the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) processes tax returns and begins implementation of tax reform, the agency continues its march to leave millions of taxpayers without easily accessible instructions to file tax returns.

In 2011, the IRS discontinued mailing tax forms and the Tax Instruction Guide for individuals (Publication 17) to the public. In addition, they ended the long practice of equipping libraries or post offices with the printed instruction booklet. The only place to find the instructions on paper is through the Government Publishing Office, where a hard copy version can be ordered for $​10.

These changes took place without Congressional oversight or public input.

Digital-only policies discriminate against millions of Americans and unfairly penalize vulnerable populations. While Internet connectivity may be second nature to many, there are still significant portions of the U.S. population that do not have ready access to the Internet, or the skills to use it. Thirty percent of American adults, many of whom are in rural communities and/or low-income households, do not have broadband Internet access at home. This number rises to 53 percent for citizens over 65, and 45 percent of seniors do not even own a computer.

Many Americans have concerns about online security and privacy, and rightly so, based on recent news reports. In fact, the IRS reported that 376,000 Americans experienced identity theft while filing their taxes in 2016 – that’s approximately the population of Tampa, Florida. And that number does not account for fraudulent returns that remain undetected.

Others simply prefer to use hard copy forms and instructions when filing their taxes. Studies[1] show that people deem paper more official, trustworthy and secure than digital alternatives, which explains why so many people prefer to have paper documentation of their transactions.

Like every year, U.S. citizens are expected to file their taxes on time. In turn, the IRS should provide easy access to the materials needed to do so. Americans should not be forced into a digital-only option, but instead be able to choose the manner in which they receive tax information and file their returns – and that choice includes paper.

Tax reform brings significant changes. As citizens start complying with new tax rules this year, it is more important than ever before that they have readily available, printed tax documents.

The IRS should reverse its decision and reinstate the supply of printed tax forms and instructions to U.S. taxpayers.

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