140,000 people did their taxes with the free IRS direct file pilot. But program's future is unclear

WASHINGTON — The IRS said Friday that more than 140,000 taxpayers filed their taxes through its new direct file pilot program and participants saved roughly $5.6 million in fees they would have otherwise spent with commercial tax preparation companies.

The government pilot program, rolled out this tax season in 12 states, allows people with very simple W-2s to calculate and submit their returns directly to the IRS for free. Those using the program claimed more than $90 million in refunds, the IRS said.

But despite what IRS and Treasury Department officials said was a successful rollout, they aren’t saying yet whether the program will be available next year for more taxpayers. They say they need to evaluate the data on whether building out the program is feasible.

“We will take time to analyze the data and collect feedback from a wide variety of stakeholders before making a decision about direct file’s future,” IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel said on a call with reporters.

The program, which became available to the public on March 8, cost roughly $10.5 million for technology and product development and another $2.4 million for customer service, cloud computing and user authentication.

While the Treasury set a goal of reaching 100,000 users for the pilot, 140,803 completed their taxes using the program. More than 3 million people used the IRS’ eligibility tracker to see if they could use the program, and 423,450 people logged into the program.

“Regardless of where it goes from here, I am proud of the success of the direct file pilot,” Werfel said.

Commercial tax prep companies that have lobbied against development of the free file program say free file options already exist.

Intuit spokesman Rick Heineman said “the reality remains the same today as it did the day Direct File launched; 100% of Americans can already file their taxes completely free of charge, free to the government and actually free to taxpayers.”

Several organizations, including private tax firms, offer free online tax preparation assistance to taxpayers under certain income limits and fillable forms are available online on the IRS website, but the forms are complicated and taxpayers still have to calculate their tax liability.

The tax season began on Jan. 29, and the filing deadline for most people was April 15.

The program was available to certain taxpayers in Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Four other states that have a state income tax also were part of the pilot program — Arizona, Massachusetts, California and New York. In those four, state tax agencies helped people directly file their state taxes as well.

According to the latest IRS data, this tax season the agency has received 119.5 million returns, compared with 117.3 million received in the same timeframe last year. Refunds this tax season add up to $220 billion, compared with $215 billion last year.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the IRS at https://apnews.com/hub/internal-revenue-service.

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