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Will the Simple Return end April 15 tax agony?

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"It shifts the initiative. If the first step in doing your taxes is having the IRS send you the bill, it's pretty clear who is in the driver's seat at that point," says Ryan Ellis, director of tax policy at Americans for Tax Reform, an antitax advocacy group in Washington. "You've got the taxpayer, this isolated person, having to fight the IRS on a battlefield of the IRS's choosing. That's just not right."

A straightforward beginning

The idea so far has been envisioned only for simpler types of returns, the ones least open to the adversarial negotiation that Mr. Ellis wants to keep in balance.

California's ReadyReturn is available only for residents filing as a single head of household, with only one employer, no dependents, no itemizing, and no special credits. The state estimates that about 1 million Californians are eligible. The program is voluntary and free of charge.

If there were a TurboTurboTax, this would be it. A resident can go to the state's website, plug in their name, Social Security number, and answers to security questions, and if they qualify, staring at them will be their state tax return with the bubbles, boxes, and lines already filled in.

Yes, Virginia, line 14 has been subtracted from line 13, and if line 14 was more than line 13, zero was entered – though if anything looks amiss, a taxpayer can make fixes to the form.

That simplicity reflects some tax-filing systems abroad. Denmark and Sweden have used systems like Simple Return for at least a decade.

"There are lots of countries with an income tax, and lots with basically our system. But we make the filing part harder than any other country," says Mr. Bankman.

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