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It’s tax time, and like many people, you might be looking for a tax preparation service — especially one that’s free. Intuit, the company that owns TurboTax, has gotten a lot of people’s attention with ads that said things like “$0 to file” and “file FREE.” The problem? For a lot of people, it’s not actually free.

Today, the FTC announced an administrative action against Intuit for misleading people about free tax filing with TurboTax and separately has asked a federal court to stop Intuit’s deceptive advertising of TurboTax. According to the administrative complaint, since at least 2016, it was only after people spent time entering sensitive personal and financial information that many learned they’d need to upgrade to a paid TurboTax product to complete and file their taxes.

So, when is it free? Only when you meet TurboTax’s definition of a “simple return” (which they’ve changed a few times since 2016). In practice, during 2020, two-thirds of all tax filers didn’t qualify for the “simple return.” That includes people who got unemployment benefits and gig workers with 1099 forms.

Looking to do your taxes for free — for real?

  • Check out the IRS Free File ProgramIf your 2021 adjusted gross income was $73,000 or less, you qualify for free guided tax preparation software for your federal taxes. Use this tool to find which free software is available to you, based on your income and situation.   Depending on your income and which IRS partner site you use, you might be able to prepare and file your state taxes for free too.
  • Check out MilTax if you’re a servicemember or veteran. If your income is too high for the IRS Free File Program, there’s another free option for you. There’s no income limit for the Department of Defense’s free filing program, but there are some eligibility requirements.
  • Look into the details. If a company advertises free tax preparation services, ask what qualifications you’ll have to meet for it to be free? Do you qualify?
  • Check out IRS Free File Fillable FormsUse these to file your federal taxes for free if your 2021 adjusted gross income was more than $73,000. These are an online version of the IRS paper forms, so you won’t get any guidance. These forms don’t help with your state tax return, so learn more by going to the website for your state’s tax agency.

Spot a tax preparation service that says it’s free but isn’t? Report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

23 Comments


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KathiSue
March 30, 2022

This is so true. Have used them for the past few years when they were affiliated with .gov and service was free and easy to use. This year, however, they lure with the hope that it will be free but then scare you into believing if you don't use one of the "pay" services, there may be problems. I finally caved and paid them for the service. One of the "free" services on the ".gov" for my state wasn't free either. Got halfway through (a very simple return) and it indicated taxes could only be completed if I itemized.

Trea Collins
March 30, 2022

I totally agree with this article, turbo tax is misleading, we have filed through turbo tax with simple returns and we also had unemployment so they charges us this year $80 to finish! But last year this didn’t apply? I think they are very misleading and forcing people to have to pay, when they advertised it’s free.

Christy Collins
May 12, 2022

In reply to by Trea Collins

I filed my just do TurboTax I signed up for free file and I still got forced into going with the deluxe package and I didn't want it I kept trying to push the button but they still wouldn't let me do it and they charged me from following my taxes and I made less than $34,000 so how do I get my money back that I'm going to get pay them for filing my taxes for me when it's supposed to be free.

bluebrad
May 12, 2022

what can we do to enforce the use of FREE.
i would like to see companys punished for using FREE when it requires for you to buy something or its not relay free. misleading information should be removed. and if a company continues to post FREE when its not free, they should be BAN from posting ads for 3 years. and be fined 80% of there review the the 3 years. im sure companys would stop scamming clients. if they get marked more than 2 times the comp would be removed from operation.

Anonymous
March 30, 2022

It is about time FTC went after this fraudulent advertisement!

s. carpenter
March 30, 2022

This article is very true and I wish it was posted before I was caught up in this tax game. I ended up paying and that is difficult on a very limited income. It is a shame that this is done to low-income, disabled, and seniors on social security. So much for honesty from "reputable" companies.

P. Bink
March 30, 2022

We ran into the same problem (Free until you enter everything in) with H&R Block this year. Ended up costing over $120 for what we thought would be free.

kay mcDonald
March 30, 2022

Great information. Thanks.

Karen A Salgueiro
April 15, 2022

For 2 years my young daughter has had to pay .. from turbo tax ..all she has is 2 jobs and because she has insurance from Obama the marketplace she has to pay to file. There's no property children or anything she's Claiming ..how much more simple can that be . I won't be using this again. There was also an error on mind this year that was not mine, from turbo tax and instead of receiving..I had to pay ..irs corrected it. It had to do with a stimulus question..it wasn't worded clearly and the man from irs said that Many people got it wrong and so many people were calling about it.. I used to be happy with free turbo tax,next year I will choose another ..

Vernon Gaarder
March 30, 2022

HR Block also advertises that there service is free, but it also is not as most taxpayers need to upgrade to a deluxe or premier service to file just like you run into with turbo tax.

Carol Picou
March 30, 2022

Thank you for great info.

Shakena
March 30, 2022

Turbo tax charge me $209 to file my taxes.. after I filed last year for free.. there are charging the same amount as H&R Block the reason I switched to turbo was to want money filling my taxes with out the big expense of paying.. exspecially when the tax rep doesn’t provide you no assistant when filing there just sit there and Ask you if you’re done yet SMH this experience this year was horribly fit me through turbo tax filing..I would like Refund from turbo tax fit stating you can file for free.. but then you got with high paying fee to file

Andrea Garner
March 30, 2022

I’ve had Turbo Tax guide me and input my taxes for 7 years, and this was the last time. Their free, free, free was not free at all. On top of being charged $150 for a service that they did not provide to me. They were suppose to make sure that taxes after correct and ensured me that I was getting the maximum amount, my questions were not answered immediately even thought they were suppose to provide me with a tax consultant when needed but it was not timely provided. I ended up filing without my question answered and because of their failure I ended up having to file an amended 2021 refund. A tax refund so desperately needed will now take 16 weeks to be of any use.

charles kenher
March 30, 2022

Nice to see a consumer-oriented agency with the courage to challenge a large corp. like Intuit. Keep it up.

Carl bowles
May 12, 2022

There is no such thing as a free lunch, this truth never changes.

Thomas Wiggins
March 30, 2022

So glad the FTC is taking action against Turbo Tax. I started filing my taxes for what I thought was a free service and then found out after I was near complete that my State tax was not free and because I had a schedule for reporting rental income that was an additional fee. So what I thought was a free service ended up costing me $120. That was clearly a deceptive practice and forces consumer into paying because you have already spent so much time on inputting your information into the program. I applaud the FTC action. Really wrong what Turbo Tax is doing.

Taken In
April 03, 2022

This just happened to me. I have very little income, but I had over $1500.00 in interest income. At that point, I got the message saying that disqualified me from having it be free!! I went ahead and paid the $59.00, because, at age 84, it felt overwhelming and exhausting to have to try to start over again with someone else. I feel like I was taken advantage of, misled and cheated by Turbo Tax.

P.R.
April 03, 2022

Turbo Tax charged my credit card $75 even after I tried to close my "Free account" with them. On the website, there is no way to close an account. When I called the CS agent to help me close my account, she told me to "erase" my information from the online form. Later I discovered that I had been charged even though I never used the Turbo Tax service. When I complained the CS agent said it was too late to get refunded.

Terry Stein
April 06, 2022

How do add yourself to the pending lawsuit against Turbo Tax? I just saw this and ever since I was widowed in 2014, I have been charged. As a widow with 2 special needs kiddos, I never made above the required amount.
I am glad to know that this is finally being addressed. Where can I go to join?

Tom Garroutte
May 12, 2022

I have used TurboTax for 15 years plus the Current year. It has always used the "bait and switch" plan. It is much worse for the 2021 return. I have never before experienced so many misleading directions, attempts to convince me to buy something, and wasting my time. I have paid about double costs over the 2020 return and I still cannot find a way to submit either by mail or email. I still cannot amend the form. This is the last time I will use TurboTax!

Petra
April 06, 2022

Wish I'd seen this in February, I'd have tried someone else. Instead, I fell into the Turbo Trap, again.

Michael Cameron
May 12, 2022

Three years ago it was free for me file with Turbo Tax,now that I have retired with only social security to claim and no write offs,a very simple structure.they charged me $69 plus tax ,I didn’t want start a new filing somewhere other than them,not next year to do it myself

Wayne
May 12, 2022

TurboTax charged me over a hundred dollars to file a return on an income of $12,500. And an auto insurance company said I had to have an $800 policy and could not sign up for minimum coverage.