When Free File isn’t Free

Last year there was a big dust up in the tax world when ProPublica published a number of articles showing how the Free File option for American taxpayers is being hidden in a concerted effort to trick the taxpayers into paying for a similar product.

Due to this revelation, the IRS and the tax preparation software came to an agreement that certain things would change. However, it appears this hasn’t happened like those of us following the story hoped it would.

Cut to the chase

I’ll get right to the point, if you are eligible to use the Free File option, then the only way to guarantee you don’t get tricked into paying for the preparation of your tax return is to enter the program through the IRS website. The current cutoff for eligibility is income of $69,000 or less.

  • Go to IRS.gov
  • Click on “Do your Taxes for Free”
    The top right option in the banner at the top of the page
Screenshot of IRS.Gov landing page as of 2/19/2020
  • On the IRS website Free File: Do Your Federal Tax for Free select the box “Choose a Free File Online Product”
  • From here, you can find the best option based on your income and where you live.

Why does this matter?

If you search online for the Free File option, chances are you won’t actually get to the Free File option. You’ll find lots of advertisements for programs that claim to be free, but what tends to happen is you’re going to enter your information and then be told you have some complication or wrinkle and you’ll have to pay to actually file your tax return. At this point, your options are to pay for the program’s service or start over by going to the IRS website I mentioned above.

As Will E. Young from ProPublica points out in a post from yesterday, the trickery from the tax software providers hasn’t really stopped.

If you qualify for Free File and enter the program using a Google search for “Free File” you can’t be sure you’re going to the right program. Many of the software providers have a version that they advertise as “Free” but they include many tricks to get you to move up to one of their paid services. The only way to make sure your not going to be forced to pay for the service is to enter through the IRS website for their Free File service.

Further information

Probably the best place to read more about Free File options is the actual ProPublica website. They have a lot of information on this and you can read more about the history of the Free File program

TurboTax Is Still Tricking Customers With Tax Prep Ads That Misuse the Word “Free”

How to File Your State and Federal Taxes for Free in 2020