On April 15 — tomorrow — some Americans are going to lose a lot of money — but not in a way you might expect.
The federal government owes quite a few tax refund checks to taxpayers who don’t even know they are due for a refund. In Kansas, more than 6,000 people did not claim tax money owed to them by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for income earned back in 2010. The estimated value of that unclaimed money was nearly $7 million, an average of $522 per person. But these funds are no longer available to claim because after three years, unclaimed IRS refunds are transferred to the U.S. Treasury where they are spent by the federal government. Each year, too many Americans do not realize they are being hit by this hidden tax — and it’s just one of the many ills of our current tax code.
If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, our tax system is fundamentally flawed and in need of significant reform. I have introduced legislation (S.155) to overhaul the tax code and replace it with a tax system known as the FairTax. This national consumption tax proposal would allow Americans keep more of their money and end IRS use of complexity as a perverse method of taxation. The FairTax would make the tax code so simple that we could eventually wind down and close the IRS for good.
Why abolish the IRS? Setting aside the scandalous IRS activity exposed in 2013, the tax regime Americans suffer under today is unjustifiably complicated and irrefutably wasteful. A 2013 study by the Mercatus Center estimated that Americans spend upwards of $1 trillion each year complying with the tax code. The burden tax filing places on individuals and businesses must be relieved. There is no reason why paying taxes should be so confusing, costly and complicated.
By removing existing income taxes and associated loopholes, exemptions and credits, the FairTax would end the annual tax-filing process and replace it with a national consumption tax system. This change would eliminate the IRS method of often overtaxing first and only later giving taxpayers a chance to get their money back, as our current system operates with depressing inefficiency.
In aggregate, the costs and headaches caused by America’s current tax code impede economic growth. Our high corporate tax rates make it harder for American companies to compete with foreign competitors and discourage reinvestment in the United States. By some estimates, U.S. companies are currently holding more than $20 trillion overseas because our foolish corporate tax code gives companies no reasonable path to reinvest this money in U.S.-based operations.
Fortunately, we’re not yet doomed — America can adopt a better tax policy. With a simpler and smarter tax code, money earned overseas by American companies could be brought back to America to be invested and boost economic growth. For international businesses looking to relocate to the United States, the FairTax would be an alluring “welcome” sign. But the benefits of the FairTax also extend to the individual.
Under the FairTax, no one would be forced to endure the current burdensome tax filing process each April. Moreover, included in the legislation is a tax pre-bate, which would allow every American to purchase goods and services tax-free in an amount up to the national poverty level. Today, low-income workers are often those hit hardest by the hidden tax of the complicated filing process.
While Republicans and Democrats may disagree on how much the federal government should tax its citizens, we can all agree that the tax code should be easier for Americans comply with and to understand. No one is eager to defend a system that annually results in the government pocketing money rightfully owed to taxpayers.
Overhauling the American tax system is not an easy undertaking, but the economic need for a leaner and fairer tax code has never been greater. It’s time for a simplified tax code that cuts waste and gives our economy a genuine, sustained boost. Adopting of the FairTax would be a tremendous step in that direction.
If you did not file with the IRS for income earned in the past three years, you can still submit a claim for your tax refund. The deadline for refunds on withheld income earned in 2011 is April 2015. More information is available at IRS.gov and by calling (800) TAX-FORM.
Jerry Moran represents Kansas in the U.S. Senate and is co-chair of the Senate Economic Mobility Caucus.