Is TurboTax Free?
(From a March 2021 Pro Publica Article)
It’s the time of year when people open search engines and ask: “Is TurboTax free?”
TurboTax is no longer participating in the IRS Free File program, a public-private partnership that it helped construct. In 2019 and earlier years, TurboTax and H&R Block together accounted for around two-thirds of all filings through the program, according to ProPublica’s analysis. But H&R Block left the program in 2020, and now, Intuit wrote in a blog post, it too is leaving “to focus on further innovating in ways not allowable under the current Free File guidelines.”
I decided to run a little test. Even though it has dropped out of the IRS Free File program, the company still offers its own “free” version and pours millions into marketing it. To see how TurboTax’s “free” version measured up, I went through the steps to file my taxes through TurboTax’s service.
The TurboTax Saga
The cheapest program I can file under was TurboTax Deluxe, for $39.
Next it tries to upsell me TurboTax MAX: Defend and Restore, which offers insurance against identity theft for another $49. I skip that too.
I’m five minutes into this process, and I’ve spent half my time rejecting TurboTax’s attempts to collect additional money or information.
After I submit each W2, I’m shown an encouraging screen that tells me I’m on track for my biggest refund yet! I feel inches from those promised dollars.
TurboTax tells me I can reduce my self-employment tax by entering self-employment expenses, like cellphone service or gas mileage. On the next screen, TurboTax offers me a list of possible applicable expenses I could deduct, and I feel a rush of affection for the site. This could be the moment TurboTax finally starts paying for itself.
It’s another upsell — this time for TurboTax Self-Employed.
I check: “I don’t have expenses,” even though I do. I just don’t have enough that I can afford to pay for the pleasure of reporting them.
I go through the same song and dance for a second 1099, and then we hit upsell number three.
Remember that offer of “NO COST” chats with tax specialists that endeared me to this service?
And Intuit is once again trying to sell me something it claims to offer for free, this time in the form of TurboTax Live Deluxe. Intuit said that while product experts are available to connect with tax filers to answer questions about the filings themselves, Live connects customers with tax experts that specialize in specific filing statuses (such as someone who knows a lot about freelancers).
Shortly after declining the live services, I get a question about how my experience has been so far.
When we get to the state tax section, I learn that TurboTax will charge me an additional fee for each state I need to file in.
That adds up to a $156 bill: $39 for each of the states I need to file in — California, New York and Virginia — plus $39 for TurboTax Deluxe.
And before I can pay, it tries to sell me TurboTax MAX one last time.
Overall, a “not so good” experience.
The takeaway, at least for me, is that filing your taxes for “free” online is confusing and soul-sucking by design.