Update, March 24, 2021:here's somethingInformation on how to file your 2021 state and federal taxes for free for the 2020 tax year. See other updated tax guidesHere.
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Did you know that if you earn less than $66,000 a year, you can prepare?Register your taxes for free?
NO? This is not a coincidence. Companies that make tax preparation software, like Intuit, maker of TurboTax, prefer you not to know.
Intuit and other tax software companiesmillion spent pressureto ensure that the IRS does not offer its own tax preparation and filing service. In return, the companies reached an agreement with the IRS to:„Free File“ product.for most americans but good luckto find that.
That's what happened when we went looking.
Our first stop was Google. We look for "irs free file tax".
And we thought we found what we were looking for: TurboTax and other ads that direct us to free products.
The first link looked promising. It contained the word "free" five times! We clicked and were relieved to see that the presentation was free.guaranteed.
We started the process by profiling a TaskRabbit cleaner who raised $29,000. We entered extensive personal information. TurboTax asked us to click through over a dozen questions and guidance about our finances.
After all that, it was only then that we got the bad news: TurboTax revealed that this wasn't going to be free at all. Turns out the cleaner wasn't qualified because he's an independent contractor. The charge? $119.99.
Then we tried a second scenario. We went back to TurboTax.com and clicked on Guaranteed FREE. This time, we went through the process as a Walgreens cashier without health insurance, entering personal information and giving the company a lot of sensitive data.
Again TurboTax told us we had to pay, this time because there is an extra form if you don't have insurance. The charge? $59.99.
But wait. Housekeepers and cashiers cannot prepare and file their tax returns free of charge due to their special tax status? NO! Under the agreement between the IRS and the companies, anyone earning less than $66,000 can prepare and file their taxes for free.
So how do we end up with a product we would pay with?
We took a look at the source code of the TurboTax website and found something strange. Even though we clicked on the GUARANTEED FREE option and fulfilled all the requirements to sign up for free, the company flagged us as a potential paying customer.
In the source code, TurboTax tagged us as "NOFFA". It stands for "Non Free File Alliance". In other words, we weren't going to ship it for free after all.
This is what it looks like from behind the curtain:
ch: /pessoal – impuestos/online/ cc: USD c2: 2019-04-12T17:44:20.316Zc5: NOc6: TT.com c7: TTCamp c9: 582c1659 – f678-4316 – a059-29ee9324cf4c c14: performance|domComplete
Although TurboTax informed us that we were entitled to file for free, the company never informed us about the truly free version.
It turns out that if you start the process at TurboTax.com, it's impossible to find the truly free version. The company itself admits this.
This is a good time to remind you: Intuit, the makers of TurboTax, is one of the companies that did this.promised the IRSto offer free tax returns to low-income Americans.
Is it called the free edition? No, this is reserved for the widely advertised commercial products that are only free for people with the simplest of taxes. The company calls the truly free versionfreedom edition.
When we realized we really wanted TurboTax Freedom, we typed this into Google:
The first link was from TurboTax and it said "Free File Program" right in the text. We clicked and it brought us to this new page.
While the orange “See if you qualify” link took us back to the real Free File program, the blue “Start Free” link took us back to the version of TurboTax we had to pay for.
There's a name for Internet design tactics that make users pay for products they don't necessarily want:dark patterns.
Now let's go back to our original Google search.
The fifth link, a government website, seemed to take us to the actual Free File program.
But not so fast! When we clicked and then clicked on a second page, we found a whole new set of options and restrictions. Each of the 12 companies that signed a contract with the Federal Revenue offers its own Free File product. But everyone has different requirements based on their age, income and location.
Finally! We clicked on the TurboTax Free File Program link and found the actual TurboTax Freedom homepage.
It's no secret that this free file program doesn't work well. The national taxpayer recently campaigned for thiscalled"is not achieving its objectives and should be substantially improved or removed."criticizedfor not monitoring the program and the amount of people using Free Fileabandonmentmillion since its peak in 2005.
Consumer groups have long argued that the IRS should offer its own online tax preparation and filing for free, as do manyother countriesAgain.
But Congress is now in the process of legalizing the Free File program, including restricting the IRS from creating its own free service. we wrote about itearlier this monthit's himOppositionto that provision by freshman Democratic representatives.Kate Colina,Kate Porter,Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezand other. The House finally passed the bipartisanTaxpayer Law I, which also includes some provisions supported by consumer advocates, such as restrictions on private collection of unpaid taxes.
The Senate is now considering the bill. Your sponsors haveargumentthat you don't have your hands tied with the IRS, but with outside legal experts that we spoke tohave different opinions. Intuit lobbyists have long sought legal text to code the Free File program.
We asked TurboTax spokesman Rick Heineman why the company doesn't automatically direct eligible taxpayers to the Free File product. He did not respond, but said in a statement: "TurboTax free editionis a free commercial tax preparation product that costs the Federal Reserve $0, the State $0, and the $0 to file, allowing 50 million users with "simple" returns to file completely free. Eligibility details for this and other TurboTax products are provided inProducts and Pricesbook page."
Heineman also referred us to Intuit'sCorporate Social Responsibility Annual Report, which said last year "donated 2.3 million federal and state returns (worth $27 million) to low-income taxpayers through the IRS and state free-file programs."
Last year, Intuit's consumer division, which includes TurboTax, reported$1.6 billionnot operational result.
How to request a refund
If you made less than $34,000 last year and paid to file your taxes with TurboTax, you may be able to get a refund.
One reader who reported that TurboTax agreed to refund his money said he called TurboTax's customer service number at 888-777-3066.
Spokespersons for Intuit, maker of TurboTax, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its refund policy.
If you made less than $66,000 last year, you can prepare and file your taxes for free with one of the companies that participate in the IRS Free File program. But each company has its own specific admission requirements. It's not clear if the other companies would offer refunds.
TurboTax Free Tax Return FAQ:
We recently reported that TurboTax and H&R were blockedintentionally hiding your Free File program from Google and other search engines. To ensure that accurate information is available to anyone looking for it, we have compiled and answered some frequently asked questions.
What is the TurboTax Free File program?
The TurboTax Free File program is required as part ofIRS Free File Program.
To qualify for TurboTax Free File, you must earn less than $34,000 per year.
You are eligible if you earn less than $34,000 and:
- full time job
- half an hour
- You are an independent contractor
- are retired or
- student loans paid
Click here to accessPrograma TurboTax Free File.
Important:If you earn less than $66,000 a year, you can file your taxes for free in the IRS Free File program.
If you earn less than $66,000 a year,Click this link for more IRS Free File program options.
What is the free edition of TurboTax?
TurboTax Free Edition is the name of a free version of TurboTax. It is not the same as TurboTax Free File Edition which is part of the IRS program.
TurboTax Free Edition is free for people who only file very basic tax returns.
Warning: TurboTax Free Edition is not always free. This puts a lot of people on the right track to paying.
read abouthow TurboTax tries to hide its Free File Edition.
What is TurboTax Freedom Edition?
TurboTax Freedom Edition is another name TurboTax uses for its Free File Edition. This issuance is required as part of the industry's agreement with the IRS.
If you earn less than $34,000 a year, you are eligible for this program. You can access theTurboTax Freedom Edition by clicking here.
Wait, is TurboTax really free?
TurboTax Free File, also callingEdition TurboTax Freedom, it's free for anyone earning less than $34,000 a year. Click here to access TurboTax Free File Edition.
TurboTax also offers a free edition for those who just file a basic tax return.
Warning: Despite the confusing name, TurboTax Free Edition is not always free. This puts a lot of people on the right track to paying.
Does TurboTax offer free state filing?
Yes. If you earn less than $34,000 and qualify for TurboTax Free File, you can also prepare and file your state tax return for free.
Who qualifies for TurboTax Free Edition?
If you earn less than $34,000 a year, you can file your taxes for freeTurboTax Free File. This issuance is required as part of the industry's agreement with the IRS. You can access theTurboTax Free File-Schedule Aqui.
TurboTax also offers a free edition for people filing very basic tax returns. Warning: the free edition puts many people on the right path to pay that is not part of the IRS Free File program.
To remember:If you earn less than $66,000 a year, you are still eligible to prepare and file your taxes for free under the IRS Free File program.
If you earn less than $66,000 a year,click this linkto find another free tax preparation offertax exempt file.
How do I contact TurboTax support?
You can call TurboTax at 888-777-3066 or contact them on Twitter at @TeamTurboTax
How do I get a TurboTax refund?
Some readers have informed us that they can request a refund by calling 888-777-3066.
If you earned less than $34,000, you were eligible to file a free TurboTax statement. If you were charged a fee, you can call TurboTax to request a refund.
Update on April 22, 2019:After we published this story, a reader informed us that TurboTax charged him $120 to file his mother-in-law's tax return, even though she earned about $18,000. After reading our story, she said she called TurboTax and complained that her mother-in-law was eligible for a free tax return. The company agreed to return the money.