Getting Worse Part 3: TurboTax Wrapped Its Veterans Site In The American Flag And Then Tricked Soldiers Into Paying

from the usa!--usa!--usa! dept

One of the most irritating aspects of our politically polarized reality is how that polarization seeps into everything. An example of that can be seen in the ongoing coverage, here and otherwise, of the complete shitshow Intuit has found itself in over how it has handled its TurboTax free-to-file taxes system. With all the best reporting coming from ProPublica, the whole thing started by exposing Intuit purposefully hiding the free-to-file website as best it could despite its obligations to Congress, got worse when Intuit's support reps lied to customers about that reporting, and then got worse still when internal communications to Intuit staff carried the theme that Intuit was hiding its actually free program, but did so for the public's own good. The result of all of this is that many people who qualify to file for free instead paid Intuit tons of money to file their taxes, all because the non-free website -- which was massively branded with the word "free" -- told them they didn't qualify.

But here's where the polarization comes in. This story should have been met with outrage from across the political spectrum. Instead, probably because one side of the aisle has been pitching having the IRS do free-to-file itself, while the other side has been fear-mongering having a government agency do what it absolutely could be doing already, the outrage is about half of what it should be.

But if there is anything that gets applause across from both sides of the political aisle, it's typically support of US military veterans and active service members. Well, hey, great news: Intuit was fucking them over too!

In patriotism-drenched promotions, press releases and tweets, TurboTax promotes special deals for military service members, promising to help them file their taxes online for free or at a discount.

Yet some service members who've filed by going to the TurboTax Military landing page told ProPublica they were charged as much as $150 — even though, under a deal with the government, service members making under $66,000 are supposed to be able to file on TurboTax for free.

It takes a special kind of cynicism for a company to wrap itself in the American flag while charging our fighting men and women for tax prep services that it is obligated to provide for free. And it sure looks like Intuit is doing this purposefully, again playing all the SEO games it played to keep free tax prep services away from active service members. The post follows one family, the Zimmermans, that ended up paying $60 for tax prep that would have been free on the free-to-file site that Intuit keeps hidden. Liz Zimmerman ended up in that boat because she googled "tax preparation military free" and got the non-free site.

But when Zimmerman got to the end of the process, TurboTax charged her $60, even though the family makes under the $66,000 income threshold to file for free. “I’ve got a kid in braces and I’ve got a kid in preschool; $60 is half a week’s worth of groceries,” she said. “Who needs date night this month? At least I filed my taxes.”

In the commercial version of TurboTax that includes the “military discount,” customers are charged based on the tax forms they file. The Zimmermans used a form to claim a retirement savings credit that TurboTax required a paid upgrade to file. If they’d started from the TurboTax Free File landing page instead of the military page, they would have been able to file for free.

So now can we all agree that something must be done to punish Intuit for this? Is Intuit's line -- that it's hiding free services for the public good -- going to be accepted when we're talking about active duty members of the military? If you need this point driven home even more, get a load of the bullshit in Intuit's own marketing material.

To find TurboTax’s Free File landing page, service members typically have to go through the IRS website. TurboTax Military, by contrast, is promoted on the company’s home page and elsewhere. Starting through the Military landing page directs many users to paid products even when they are eligible to get the same service for no cost using the Free File edition.

An Intuit press release this year announced “TurboTax Offers Free Filing for Military E1- E5” — but refers users to TurboTax Military and does not mention the actual Free File option. (E1-E5 refers to military pay grades.) It was promoted on the company’s Twitter feed with a smiling picture of a woman wearing fatigues outside her suburban home. Google searches for “TurboTax military,” “TurboTax for soldiers” and “TurboTax for troops” all produce top results sending users to the TurboTax Military page.

Intuit will tell you that the TurboTax Military site does in fact allow some service members to file for free. And that's true, but the site also charges other service members for tax prep that would be totally free using Intuit's actual free-to-file site found on the IRS website. ProPublica dug further to test this with volunteer service members.

We tested TurboTax Military and TurboTax Free File using the tax information of a Virginia-based Navy sailor and his graphic designer wife with a household income of $53,000.

The filing experiences had just one major difference: TurboTax Military tried to upgrade us or convince us to pay for side products six times. We declined those extras each time. Finally, the program told us we had to pay $159.98 to finish filing.

And that “military discount”? All of $5.

In the Free File version, by contrast, we were able to file completely free.

Come on, people. It can't take a "Getting Worse Part 4" to get some real action on this beyond a couple of municipal and state investigations.

Filed Under: free file, taxes, turbotax, veterans
Companies: intuit


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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 6 Jun 2019 @ 9:54am

    So now can we all agree that something must be done to punish Intuit for this?

    Depends. Have their shenanigans reached the point where they meet the legal definition of fraud yet, or is it still just de facto fraud that they can legally get away with?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 2:24pm

      Re:

      When they bribed the government into not creating a free filing solution for most Americans, it crossed over into the fraud category. Now it is nothing but sheer greed and profit for them. Fraud is when millions are involved, this is into the hundreds of billions category now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 11:25am

    Now Republican lawmakers get to decide what they love more: The men and women in the Armed Forces, or wealthy corporations that donate big to their campaign coffers.

    HAHAHAHHA, just kidding. They've never loved the military. They just pretend to as a means to get away with all their bullshit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 11:36am

    The web people got this all wrong...

    Liz Zimmerman ended up in that boat because she googled "tax preparation military free" and got the non-free site.

    It was supposed to say:
    Free filing? No, money down!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TDR, 6 Jun 2019 @ 11:41am

    While what Intuit's done is repulsive and grossly dishonest, I do wonder if it's right to treat one group of people as a special class with rights and privileges the rest of us don't have just because of their chosen vocation (or past vocation, as the case may be)? Should not everyone be treated equally regardless of their profession and get all the same breaks and such? Treating people differently based on their job only seems to reinforce the "uniform worship" aspect of our society, one which has been a part of many tyrannical governments throughout history.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 6 Jun 2019 @ 11:51am

      Re:

      By the same token, is it right to treat every job as exactly the same? Is it not true that certain jobs require a greater investment of time, energy, and/or education? Is it also not true that certain jobs carry a far greater amount of risk overall?

      Should we treat the job of a bank teller as entirely equivalent to the job of a firefighter or emergency first responder? Should individuals facing active combat receive no greater benefit for the risk they face than a receptionist?

      It's not to say that the people themselves are worth more or less intrinsically, but is it fair to not recognize the hazards and demands that exist in certain professions but do not elsewhere?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 2:09pm

        Re: Re:

        Yes, I believe it is totally fair. When you take a job you weight the pros and cons, the benefits versus the risks. If the value is there then you take the job. If it is not then you don't. Clearly anyone who worked as a soldier, cop, firefighter or bookbinder thought the compensation was worth it. I've always found it annoying that certain jobs carried a lifetime or at least prolonged series of benefits well past having left the job (except in cases of medical issues which should be the responsibility of the former employer).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 3:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          But the things you listed are benefits that are weighed when choosing a job. If you had the choice between 2 jobs, both pay about the same. One is more dangerous, but carries a pension and lifetime healthcare, are you really saying you wouldn't consider those things when deciding? These aren't unknown or new benefits.

          There are times I wish I stayed in the military, as I could be retired on a pension at my current age (or working still and collecting an extra free pay check), bit then I remember just how miserable I would be moving from the tech job I loved to a glorified babysitter for a bunch of idiots (for those who aren't aware, the military eliminated all higher ranks that aren't leadership positions, so if you want to be promoted past E-4, you have to move into leadership). The benefits weren't worth it, and for those that stayed with it, they earned those, and chose that path.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 12:15pm

    This should END Intuit, but it won't. That is was TRULY SUCKS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 12:33pm

    I worked for the UK version of Quickbooks via a 3rd party support system.

    We were TOLD to lie to customers if they were double billed that we were just "billing ahead" once month. Intuit KNEW that a good percentage of Quickbooks Online users would forget to then check again and have paid for 13months every 12.

    Also business customers for their desktop software were GUARENTEED UK based support, but calls were happily shipped off to India, and staff there were told to lie and say they were based in London. They picked names like Andrew, Simon etc to assist the fraud, but often would forget which name they'd picked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 1:02pm

    Why the hell are soldiers required to pay income tax?

    Are they making big bucks on the side, you know - fighting wars during their downtime?

    Along with requiring tax paid upon unemployment benefits ... wth, as if they have any money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 1:20pm

      Re:

      Are they making big bucks on the side, you know - fighting wars during their downtime?

      It's called "investing". The military pays people while they're deployed, but there aren't a lot of opportunities to spend that money unless they have a family to support. Living expenses are covered, college is paid by the military, so a single person can get a decent income stream after a decade or two.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 1:41pm

        Re: Re:

        Words fail me.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 2:32pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm sorry, but that hardly addresses the question.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2019 @ 6:00pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Investment income is one reason soldiers would have income "on the side" and would owe taxes. What's the problem? Why should soldiers have special status? If their income is low they'll owe nothing, like many Americans. If you think the calculations should all be automated (no filing), sure, lots of countries do it and apply it to all workers, not just military ones.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 2:34pm

    This is why everytime I have a conversation with one of these kinds of “people” I keep having to remind them that I watch what they send me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Jun 2019 @ 2:50pm

    " It can't take a "Getting Worse Part 4" to get some real action on this beyond a couple of municipal and state investigations. "

    You underestimate how stupid voters are.
    They talk a great game about taking care of our Vets, but we fail them on a daily basis.

    Oh you are feeling suicidal??
    We can have a bed available in 5 months.

    You need to travel to our facility on the otherside of the country to have your stump measured, then in 4 months we'll have it ready... of course we know it won't fit by then & you'll just have to do it again.

    Dear American Public,
    Perhaps it is time to remember your vote should be worth more than corporate donations & use that vote to clean house.
    We are paying higher taxes than billionaires, but the promised jobs never appear.
    We are at war across the globe defending corporate interests.
    We are breaking our word to those who fight & die for us, but our 'brave warriors' in Congress enjoy the best care possible on our dime while refusing to properly care for Veterans, Survivors, Families... here have a benefit for your loss, oh but you can only have 1, but you could assign it to your kids... oh hey your kids are in the top tax bracket now!
    Polluted bases, housing that makes the most horrific public housing in the nation look like mansions & the focus on getting the 'right' kinds of unqualified judges into lifetime appointments so we impose our moral demands on everyone with the power of law.
    How moral is it to break your promise to those who often give their life in service or once they return because paying a donors company for 100 more vehicles we didn't need matters more.

    Fuck Congress, its long past time they learn how it feels to be fucked without lube.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 6 Jun 2019 @ 8:38pm

    Well, duh.

    Intuit engages in these shenanigans because its shareholders force it to. Corporate shareholders want their dividends. I can hear them always loudly chanting, "Show us the money!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2019 @ 11:13am

      Re: Well, duh.

      They can chant all they want. The fraud requires a fraudster actually doing it consciously. Therefore the Intuit executives do not have an argument to hide from the punishment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tobias Harms (profile), 7 Jun 2019 @ 1:10am

    And here I am in Sweden being able to file my taxes using a single SMS...

    Who would have thunk corporate hijacking would be bad for the citizens? /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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