The makers of TurboTax have long been luring customers into paying for a service that they promised the government they’d give away for free. Now they’re lying to customers to avoid giving refunds.
We’ve heard from 16 people who say they were denied refunds and told that the truly free version — Free File — is a government product that’s not run by TurboTax. Ten others reported being told that ProPublica’s stories were inaccurate, or that our coverage is “fake news” or “fictitious.”
None of that is true.
TurboTax’s Free File product is created and run by the company. It is offered as part of a deal between the tax software industry and the government. The deal is specifically designed to keep the IRS from creating its own free online filing system.
Several people gave us recordings of their calls.
Here’s audio from one caller, a graduate student in Virginia whose income was around $16,000 — meaning he easily qualified for TurboTax’s Free File. He was charged $105.
The graduate student asked the agent why there were no links to the actual free version — Free File — on the TurboTax website:
TurboTax Agent: “Because it is an IRS product we built for them.”
Caller: “But you guys are the ones managing it right?”
TurboTax Agent: “No, the IRS is the one managing it.”
We gave the recording to Intuit, which makes TurboTax, but a spokesperson did not answer questions about the call. He said in a statement, “We will look into this directly with the agent.” Intuit has repeatedly declined to answer questions about its refund policy.
Other readers also reported being told that TurboTax was not responsible for Free File.
“They said their free service is actually owned by IRS, not them,” said Becky from California.
Anna from Massachusetts said that a supervisor told her that Free File is “a government product that is simply branded as TurboTax.”
Christopher from Virginia said he was told “that the IRS uses the Turbo Tax platform for Free File but that TurboTax is not responsible for it.”
Laurie from Washington said she was told by a TurboTax agent that ProPublica was going to run a retraction. (Our stories are accurate, so there’s nothing to retract.) Laurie was charged $130 by TurboTax. Her adjusted gross income was just $376.
An Intuit spokesperson previously said that no material provided to call agents included “derogatory terms about ProPublica.”
Other callers said that Intuit representatives told them the company has not given anyone a refund. That is also false.
The two suits, which cite ProPublica’s reporting, demand that the companies pay penalties and restitution for deceiving customers.
“Low-income people without someone to stand up for them have not been able to take advantage of what should be a free service,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in an interview. “That’s wrong.”
He noted the suit was filed under the same law as his office’s high-profile case against Wells Fargo.
Asked about the lawsuit, an H&R Block spokesperson said the company “is proud to have helped millions of Americans with our four free tax filing options.” An Intuit spokesperson said in a statement: “Any suggestion that Intuit does not support the IRS Free File Program is flat wrong. We stand behind our actions as being both appropriate and consistent with our values.”
Update, May 9, 2019: Following publication of this story, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Finance Committee, said in a statement: “ProPublica’s latest reporting provides more evidence of dirty tricks from Intuit. Customers eligible to file for free were allegedly denied refunds and given false information about the Free File program.”
Wyden, co-sponsor of a bill that would make the Free File program permanent — the fate of which is now in doubt — added: “While Chairman [Charles] Grassley and I have requested a review of the Free File program, Congress must move toward providing the IRS resources to create a direct-file system that allows taxpayers to file with the agency.”
In a separate development Thursday, four House sponsors of the same bill, including Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, wrote a letter to the IRS calling on the agency to review the Free File program.
The letter asks that the IRS broaden a previously announced review of the program to “include a review of its own marketing practices for the program, current oversight of the program, and identify additional opportunities to improve taxpayer participation in the program.”
Have You Asked TurboTax for a Refund? Tell Us How It Went.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
CNN panel mocks the White House for promoting a photo of Trump looking ‘subservient’ to Pelosi
The White House posted a series of photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Wednesday after their meeting, showing Pelosi being the only person in the room literally standing up to President Donald Trump. It was an image that baffled the mind of at least one CNN panelist as to why the Trump people would be promoting Pelosi.
According to reports from those who were in the room, the president flew off the handle after Pelosi quipped that it seems all roads lead back to Russia for this president. It was at that point that Trump called Pelosi a "third-grade politician," though presumably, he meant "third-rate," and the meeting broke apart.
Max Boot calls BS on Republicans for trying to claim Syria is Nancy Pelosi’s fault because of impeachment
President Donald Trump is conducting foreign policy like a 1980s television character, according to conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot.
In a panel discussion about the letter Trump sent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Boot mocked Republicans for suddenly trying to claim that Trump's withdrawal from Syria was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's fault because of impeachment. It is unclear if Republicans are confessing the president is too distracted by impeachment to be making foreign policy decisions or if they are blaming Pelosi for military decisions.
"I mean there's a lot of really lame Republican talking points out there, Don," Boot said to CNN host Don Lemon. "But to suggest, as Rep. Liz Cheney and others have done that somehow Trump's inexplicable decision to give the Turks the green light to invade Syria — that was somehow the fault of Nancy Pelosi because of the impeachment process? What?"
US military had to bomb our own base in Syria because of Trump’s mistakes — and one Republican is furious
President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw in Syria in less than 24 hours put American troops at risk as they were being fired on by Turkey. However, according to the Wall Street Journal , the military was also forced to bomb our own military base.
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who has been critical of Trump's decisions in the past months, pointed out the factoid in a tweet Wednesday evening, asking, "Is this the America you grew up believing in?"
"On Wednesday, the U.S. military said two F-15E jet fighters carried out an airstrike to destroy an ammunition-storage facility, latrines, tents and other parts of the Syria headquarters of the American campaign to destroy Islamic State after pulling its forces from the base," reported The Journal.