FTC is suing TurboTax for its bogus “free” filing commercials

Originally published at: FTC is suing TurboTax for its bogus "free" filing commercials | Boing Boing


TurboTax used to be part of the Free File Alliance, which offered 100% free income tax service no strings attached to people that met income (and sometimes age) guidelines. But what they’d do is have two “free” services: one that’s actually free and one that usually upsells. The actually free one was hidden from search engines and only available directly through either the Free File Alliance website or the IRS website. If you went from the TurboTax website you got the upsell version. If you went from a browser search, you got the upsell version.

ProPublica brought this to people’s attention and detailed the steps of how to make entirely certain you get the actually free version.

Just this year, Intuit decided to withdraw from the Free File Alliance.
So now the only “free” version they offer, upsells, often mandatorily, and therefore isn’t actually free for many, maybe even most, people using it.


And, AFAIK, it’s only “free” through March 31. I imagine that some folks who may have started working on their returns, and would have been able to actually do it for free, but set it aside and go back to complete and file it after the 31st, may get caught. Especially if it’s close to the deadline to file, I imagine they won’t want to start all over again at an actually-free site, or may not be aware that there are Free File options.

I had used the actually-free version of TurboTax (accessing it through the IRS website) for the last ten or twelve years. I got really sick of the user interface, though—it felt very patronizing, treated you as though you were a toddler, or vapid, or dumb, IMO. Nevertheless, I was annoyed when they stopped offering it this year, because, you know, I had the account already, it would pre-populate much of my info on my forms, it was familiar and I could do my taxes quickly, etc. But their “free” version now (offered at their site, not through the IRS website) is only for the very simplest of returns, and I had one source of income that didn’t fit it.

Of all the Free File options this year, I met the guidelines for five of them, and I looked over their websites and chose the one that felt best to me and fit my particular needs (it would handle the forms and schedules I needed it to, and would do my state taxes for free as well). I had the inconvenience of setting up a new account and getting used to a new interface, but oh what a difference! It treated me like an intelligent adult. I ended up being a happy camper—whereas I started out being really annoyed at TurboTax that I was forced to find a different company, I wound up being really glad that I’d had to.

As long as we’re here: If anyone’s looking to file US income taxes for free, start at the IRS website: Free File: Do your Federal Taxes for Free | Internal Revenue Service

There’s a link to a screening tool there, that will tell you which of the Free File providers you qualify for, if you do qualify (they call it “Online Lookup Tool”, and here’s that link: IRS Free File | Internal Revenue Service)

(Or, I believe, go through the Free File Alliance website that Narwalt mentions above, but I don’t have experience with that myself.)


This is a good thread. In Canada, if you meet certain criteria you can get your taxes done for free at a tax clinic.

Alternatively, you can do your taxes for free online through a Netfile client, the most recent and prominent of these being Wealthsimple Tax, an absolutely amazing product for Canada. Basically, if you have a simple tax situation (I.e., no self-employment income and no capital gains or losses or rental income), you can get most of your taxes done with the click of a button. You know, like in the rest of the world outside of North America. Covid has messed this up a bit with a certain work from home benefit, so it’s quite automatic this year, but it’s much better than it used to be.


It’s about time. The only time I ever tried to use the Turbo Tax product, they had suckered me in with a line about “free”, and then immediately charged me for it. That was twenty years ago. I have never thought that it was a good idea to give sensitive tax information to an obviously crooked business.


There is no reason the IRS can’t simply send a bill or a check to roughly 95% of filers. Trust me, they KNOW how much you made and will find you if you fuck it up. You don’t even need to ask me how I know, it should be obvious (because the IRS doesn’t go after the really rich, just the middle class; I HAD made a mistake, though, and owned up to it and paid the penalties because it was a dumb ass mistake).


Everytime I read about you guys talking about taxes I have a strong impression that filling these forms are real nightmare.


They do say in the commercials but don’t expressly explain that you can file for free… if you qualify to file under it. I have not been able to file for free tax returns though them because of my student loans being something i need to claim.

As an aside, and kind off topic, as of today i am now free of debt :slight_smile: i paid my student loans on sunday and it just reflected on the lender’s site as having a balance of zero dollars


Hazzah! Free at last!


I’ve made mistakes in the past, at both the federal and state level, and in all cases the agencies mailed corrected forms for me to sign and return, which led me to wonder WHY the bastards couldn’t simply fill out the paperwork automatically.
Fingers crossed that this FTC action and increased public awareness of the issue in general will lead to a more civilized and sensible tax season.


The workers of the IRS would probably prefer it that way, but it’s not up to them. The damn tax prep companies and their lobbyists ensured that congress won’t allow the IRS to do anything to make the system more user-friendly such as implementing a return-free system or offer their own free software that would compete with what the for-profit companies are offering.


Exactly. If not for the grifting tax prep industry convincing conservatives to turn our mandatory tax filing season into their own personal profit motive, we could do that. Everything in this country has to be for profit, it’s sickening.


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