Can IRS Stop Printing Forms And Pubs?

Annette Nellen

Who remembers when the IRS mailed a packet with blank tax forms and instructions AND your Social Security number printed on your mailing label?  Several years ago the IRS reduced mailings such as when they could tell the taxpayer prepared their return with software the year before and for the past few years don’t mail forms.  They do still print them to pick up at IRS service locations. All of the forms, instructions and publications can be read or printed from the IRS website.

On april 19, 2016, the House passed H.Res. 673. Per the Congressional Research Service, this resolution, “Expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should provide U.S. taxpayers with free printed copies of IRS Publication 17, which is entitled “Your Federal Income Tax” and provides individuals with general instructions for filing tax returns..

Statements in the Congressional Record (H1825-H1827 (4/19/16)) provide some additional considerations. Congressman Levin (D-MI) notes that the cost of printing and mailing Pub 17 is $500,000 and the H. Res. 673 does not include additional IRS funding to cover the cost. Congressman Benichek (R-MI) noted that he previously introduced the PAPER act (H.R. 3673) to require the IRS to mail paper tax forms and instructions to any taxpayer who filed on paper in the past. All good points.

Will the IRS ever be able to stop printing forms, instructions and publications? I think so. While not everyone has access to computers and printers, there are VITA sites and there could be more.  Also, the federal government could work with states to help ensure that libraries and schools can assist in providing what people need.  They could print Pub 17 and have it available. Perhaps grocery stores could sell it at a reduced cost.

That might sound bad to have people pay for an IRS publication, but printing at home or elsewhere also costs. A few decades ago publications cost a small amount. The instructions to the 1954 Form 1040 state that you can buy “Your Federal Income Tax” from the Government Printing Office for 25 cents!  That is about $2.25 today.

What do you think? When can the IRS stop printing paper?

Annette Nellen, CPA, Esq., is a professor in and director of San Jose State University’s graduate tax program (MST), teaching courses in tax research, accounting methods, property transactions, state taxation, employment tax, ethics, tax policy, tax reform, and high technology tax issues.

Annette is the immediate past chair of the AICPA Individual Taxation Technical Resource Panel and a current member of the Executive Committee of the Tax Section of the California Bar. Annette is a regular contributor to the AICPA Tax Insider and Corporate Taxation Insider e-newsletters. She is the author of BNA Portfolio #533, Amortization of Intangibles.

Annette has testified before the House Ways & Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, California Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee, and tax reform commissions and committees on various aspects of federal and state tax reform.

Prior to joining SJSU, Annette was with Ernst & Young and the IRS.

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