Editor’s Note: We tend not to post articles that attempt to undercut our competitors who may offer tax preparation software or services. We are not here to libel Intuit, TurboTax, or H&R Block, but to inform our consumers of an ongoing scandal regarding the IRS Free File program and its partnerships with these providers. Any questions or comments about the article may be entered in the comments section, and will be continuously monitored by our staff.
UPDATE 5/10/19 5:44pm EST: ProPublica has now announced that the New York Department of Financial Services is launching an official investigation into Intuit, H&R Block, and two other unnamed tax preparation software firm’s deceptive business practices. Read more on the ProPublica site here.
Ripped straight from the headlines this week, digital tax preparation giants Intuit (makers of TurboTax) and H&R Block have been accused of duping consumers into paying higher costs for tax preparation services, and deliberately hiding their free-filing option from online listings.
Let’s Start at the Beginning.
We start about two months ago, when legislation was pushed through the House of Representatives attempting to bar the IRS from creating its own free tax preparation software.
Let’s stop and explain this. Currently, the IRS mandates that tax preparation software giants like Intuit and H&R Block must offer a file-for-free product to the general public online. These products are usually as basic as possible, generally limiting the types of forms that can be filed, as well as how high a taxpayer’s income can be before they’re pushed into a paid software product.
The alternative, instead of the IRS’ regulatory arm forcing tax prep software providers to offer these products, is for the IRS to create this product themselves. It would likely be hosted on the IRS’ own website (irs.gov) and function with the same ease as TurboTax or any other competitor.
The major players in the tax preparation software game, as well as major firms with an interest in tax clientele, wanted to squash this before it ever even became an idea.
Enter the bill proposed last month in the House – essentially proposed to bar the IRS from ever creating its own free-file system, thus leaving it in the hands of software giants like Intuit.
It Doesn’t Sound Like I’d Want This!
Obviously, most American taxpayers would not support this Bill, because it essentially keeps the nation’s tax system as-is for the foreseeable future, where you have to use either a do-it-yourself online filing system, or a professional tax preparer.
Or, most American taxpayers wouldn’t even care about this Bill, since they don’t have who hosts or creates the software, just that they can use it for free. The underlying problem is a lack of advertising: Only 2% of eligible low-income taxpayers use the free-file system today (regardless of who is providing it), prompting many experts, including Boundless Tax, to argue that the IRS could help more Americans by offering its own free-file system and publicizing it more widely.
Fast Forward to Last Week.
After this bill was proposed and pushed through the House, ProPublica, an investigative news website, reported that both Intuit and H&R Block have intentionally hidden their free-file products from online search engines, making that 2% figure even truer.
What has happened lies in something called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. SEO is the act of making your website easier to find for search engines like Google, Bing, etc. There is a certain standard file that companies can place on your website so that robots (yes, robots!) from search engines are able to “crawl” their websites for information, and get their websites more successfully listed on big search engines. This file is generally called robots.txt. (We even have one on the Boundless Tax website!)
So Why’s Everyone Upset?
These two tax preparation giants have added coding in their robots.txt files to say that search engines should not list their free-file products in their results. Instead of providing useful information and actually wanting to be listed on search engines (like most websites), they added additional coding to the pages for their free-file products only telling search engine robots to ignore those pages – in turn, not listing them in any search engines on purpose.
While this is by no means illegal, and is unfortunately not specified as against any regulations that the IRS has set forth, it tends to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It’s our belief that the IRS stopped short in their original regulations – as there should have been guidance that prevented this exact type of hiding from occurring in the first place.
Fast Forward to Now.
To make matters even worse for Intuit, they are now embroiled in an all-out scandal regarding their free-file products.
Not only were they (along with H&R Block) caught hiding their free-file products from search engines, but as ProPublica now reports, Intuit’s customer support agents have allegedly been intentionally up-selling customers out of their free-file products.
Customer support at Intuit has even allegedly been telling clients that the IRS runs their free-file product, and they have no control over it. (We at Boundless Tax know that this couldn’t be further from the truth.)
Intuit is also refusing to give refunds to clients who were eligible to file for free.
Use an Honest Tax Preparer Instead.
In the end, this is all the more reason we are honest with our customers at Boundless Tax, and shows you how wrong it can go when a company is dishonest.
Ask our clients – we will tell you if you’re eligible for a free-file product (even through a competitor!) and we tell you this up front. If you’re comfortable filing yourself for free, we bid you goodbye – it’s dishonest to take your money for something you rightfully do not need to pay for.
If you’re not comfortable filing yourself, even if your income is below one of the free-file limits, then we will assist you just as we would any other client.
We believe, along with most other honest tax preparers – that free should mean free. You shouldn’t be up-sold or otherwise duped into paying for something that is touted as free.
Moreover, companies offering free products should not be burying them to the point that they are only seen by 2% of Americans.
Have you paid for TurboTax or H&R Block, but are now questioning if you actually needed to? Let Boundless Tax take a look at your return for FREE & we’ll tell you if you were duped.