ELI5: How come the IRS doesn’t just mail you a bill if they know exactly how much you owe in taxes?
Because a small number of companies who have made their business from assisting people with filing tax returns, have paid huge amounts lobbying politicians and making 'campaign donations' (i.e. legal bribes) to prevent it.
They are not allowed to. This is how it works in most other countires. They send you a prefilled tax return based on what they know. You then make any changes to this as there may be a few things the IRS does not know until you tell them. Based on this they will calculate your taxes and send a bill for the remainder unpaid taxes or repay you any overpaid taxes. But in the US there are laws against having the IRS help people fill inn their tax returns in any way. There are IRS employees who have been fired for violating these laws. And even if they were allowed to help you they do not have the funds to do this for everyone, they bearly have enough money to collect and process the data for a few tax returns so they have to trust the information returned in most of them.
Because tax preparers lobby politicians to stop them from making IRS do just that.
This isn’t a joke.
TurboTax and it’s cohorts spend millions each year to make the tax law stay complicated so regular people have to hire them or buy their software to file taxes. Also, TurboTax promises irs to have a free filing system, but they intentionally hide their free filing service from searches.
Lots of countries in the world does exactly what you suggest. When I was working overseas, the government would send me a tax Bill I can just pay online, and I only need to mail something back if I dispute the amount.
The US system is fucked up.
Because I need to pay a meager fee to my non affiliated tax preparer so I can get back as much as I possibly can of the money the government was graciously holding for me without interest.
How else am I going to claim all my work expenses, small business use of my house and the 9 real dolls I claim as dependents. Not to mention their depreciation.
The IRS doesn't know every single detail that could affect how much you owe, so a bill wouldn't always be exactly accurate for every single filer