Tax preparation is the process of preparing and filing income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). According to the IRS, the United States income tax laws are so complex that almost 60 percent of U.S. taxpayers and businesses sought third-party tax assistance in 2007.
Tax preparation can be completed by a licensed professional such as an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent, a tax preparation business, tax preparation software or online services, although the filer is still held responsible for the information found on their tax return. As a protective measure for the filer, many states have licensing guidelines and requirements for anyone who prepares tax returns for a fee.
Strangely enough, the Internal Revenue Service itself does not require licensing of tax preparers. However, IRS website has extensive information on what a taxpayer should remember when hiring someone to complete their taxes for them. The taxpayer is required to give the Attorneys, Certified Public Accountants, Enrolled Agents, Enrolled Actuaries, Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents, and Appraisers whose practice may involve representing taxpayer in front of the IRS permission to do so specifically.
Additionally, the Free File Alliance provides free tax filing services online for individual persons with less than $56,000 adjusted gross income.
The expense of preparing and filing all the business and personal tax returns in the United States has been estimated to be between $250-$300 billion each year. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in 2005 that the efficiency cost of the tax system-- otherwise known as the amount that is lost above the tax itself--is between $240 billion and $600 billion every year. This means that Americans spend about 20 percent of the amount collected in taxes on tax preparation. Additional expenses come from refund anticipation loans - loans with interest based on the amount the individual expects to receive in a refund - and Intuit's lobbying the IRS to promise not to set up its own website for electronic filing. Intuit is the developer of TurboTax, a tax preparation software available online and in disc form. TurboTax is one of 19 companies that are part of the IRS Free File system, allowing individual taxpayers to file their federal return online for free using their software.