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Taxpayer demand for human help soars, despite IRS automation

Patrick Thibodeau | Jan. 12, 2016
Automation’s impact on labor is far from clear.

Bessen, in an interview, noted that even with the advent of electronic filing, the number of tax forms filed with a third-party tax preparer's signature increased from 53% in 2000 to 56% last year.

The software is clearly being used very widely, and a lot of it is being used by taxpayers, "but something is going on," Bessen said; it may be the complexity of the tools and taxes, and a need to have a human review the data.

Bessen said that the main benefit of automated tax help may not be so much to replace humans -- either IRS personnel or tax preparers -- but rather to improve the quality of tax returns. "People who are comfortable doing their own taxes without human help might still have questions about certain items," he said.

An automated help line may serve to answer those questions about the tax forms. "If so, the automated help would not necessarily be enough to enable more people to do their taxes without human help, especially if taxes have gotten more complex," said Bessen.


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