Saturday, January 5, 2019

Turbo Tax is free, until it isn't

The YouTube comment posters really love this commercial- they love bleating "free," they like brownnosing all over TurboTax, and one even says that he loves the ad so much he'd buy the service except it's free.  Uh huh.

Here's the thing.  I've been a TurboTax customer for nine years.  I find the service extremely easy to use- possibly because I don't own anything and work with only two W2 forms- and generally am able to complete my Federal and State returns, pay the fees, and e-file in about half an hour.  I have never had a problem with any returns completed with the TurboTax program, and usually get emails confirming acceptance of them by the Feds and State authorities inside of 48 hours.  I've never waited longer than two weeks for my refunds to be direct deposited.  Yes, the service works.

But...note that I included "pay the fees" in describing my experience with TurboTax.  TurboTax is NOT, for all practical purposes, "free" in any way, shape or form.  On average I end up paying about sixty dollars to e-file my returns, and that's after refusing to upgrade to the "Deluxe" version which is totally unnecessary because, as I stated above, I don't own anything.  Meanwhile, I get the same "File For Free" message on the website which remains there right up to the moment I start filling out the little boxes.

Here's how it works.  TurboTax typically offers free filing of your state return, IF you pay for filing your federal return at the same time.  So it's "free" in the same way a soda is free, just pay for the can before you open it.  Here's a tip- if you end up taking out your credit card and giving your number to a company that asks you for sixty dollars to finish completing and filing your "free" returns, the program wasn't free.   If you get to a page where you get two choices- the "standard" filing assistance for $49.95 or the "deluxe" version for $79.95, the program isn't free.  If you are "offered" the opportunity to have the cost of the filing subtracted from your refund "for a small extra fee," THE PROGRAM ISN'T FREE.

Now, I haven't researched this fully, so it's entirely possible that there is a way to get TurboTax to do your returns for free.  I suspect that it would involve printing all the completed documents up yourself, sticking them into an envelope, and sending them to the IRS, and come with all kinds of disclaimers concerning how TurboTax is not responsible in any way for delays in the Feds or the State officials getting your returns or you getting your refund.  I suspect that the "free" version comes with zero support and is covered with warnings that if you take the "free" option you are setting yourself up for disaster Better Click That $39.95 Button At The Very Least.  Far more likely, the "free" claim references nothing more than the Free If You Pay For This deal I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Oh, guess what- I decided to check on the "free" claim at the TurboTax website.  Turns out that you CAN get a free filing using TurboTax IF your filing fits these categories:

  • W-2 income
  • Limited interest and dividend income reported on a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV
  • Claim the standard deduction
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)
  • Child tax credits

I was quite correct in my prediction that using the free option means that you get no support from TurboTax if something goes wrong.  Nor do you have your documents stored in a safe place electronically unless you do that yourself.  So while you CAN technically file for free using TurboTax, it's a pretty bad idea.

Again- I use TurboTax. I LIKE TurboTax.  It works really, really well.  But the safe version is NOT  free.  Non-buyer beware.

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