back to article Ok Google, please ignore this free tax filing code so we can keep on screwing America

The United States' tax-filing software industry actively prevents search engines from discovering their free-filing versions, it has been discovered, adding further criticism to an industry that drives Americans toward unnecessary paid-for products. Internet users, incensed at efforts by the tax filing software market to …

  1. MachDiamond Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Still using Google?

    Maybe it's a condition that arises when a company gets to a certain size, but I dumped Google years ago for being the criminals that they are. It's also a bad idea to get all of your information from one source (or search site).

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Still using Google?

      Google is doing the right thing here; the bandits are the likes of Intuit. They have an agreement with the USA tax people and then try to run around that agreement. They should be hit with a corporation changing fine - but this won't happen as they have paid too many politicians from their slush fund.

      1. Richard Jones 1
        WTF?

        Re: Still using Google?

        I think you mean bought off too many politicians with the funds robbed from the public for the purpose of protecting those company's' attempts at protection racketeering and wire fraud.

      2. Tburt

        Re: Still using Google?

        Duck Duck Go takes you straight to the actual free version. Still doesn't excuse the games that 3rd party tax software companies are playing with the tax payers.

        1. Aedile

          Re: Still using Google?

          If their robot.txt is declining indexing how is Duck Duck Go indexing them?

    2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Still using Google?

      My solution to this is to replace the income tax with other taxes such a national sales tax or VAT (Feraldom has neither). America's Native Criminal Class still gets line their pockets, the public does not need to file income taxes, these frauds go out of business (very few people would be filing sales taxes or VATs and they would already have accountants), and there is less information collected about everyone in the country that the ferals would have to protect (something they do a miserable job of already).

      The net downside, it would be more difficult to prosecute people for tax evasion though the ones who are doing the most are likely involved some sort of criminal activity. However, you might be able to nail for failure to pay the required sales/VAT tax. Some people would lose there jobs, jobs that primarily exist because of the income tax.

      1. Anonymice

        Re: Still using Google?

        Sales taxes/VAT disproportionately taxes the poor & encourages the hoarding of wealth

        Think about it, those on the breadline who live paycheck to paycheck, will be taxed on 100% of their income, in comparison to someone who earns above their needs & is able to save part of their income. Those savings could then be transferred & "converted" in more favourable jurisdictions.

        1. Wandering Reader

          Re: Still using Google?

          "Think about it, those on the breadline who live paycheck to paycheck, will be taxed on 100% of their income"

          If they are on the breadline then it is just as well that there is 0% VAT on food.

        2. P. Lee

          Re: Still using Google?

          Sales tax isn't levied on income, its levied on, er, sales.

          If the rich hoard their wealth rather than spending it, they gain zero benefit from all those zeros in a bank's computer. They only benefit when they spend their wealth, at which point they pay sales tax.

          Even if they go abroad, the likelihood is they will pay sales tax somewhere since most places have sales tax.

          Sales tax is regressive, which is why the U.K. for example, zero-rates "essentials". If you're poor and buy a potato, no tax is paid. Buy a cake and you'll pay tax.

          Ultimately tax regimes are a compromise between effectiveness and fairness. It could be really fair in terms of cost allocation, but costly to administer, that the poor actually pay more than under an unfair scheme.

      2. Eddy Ito

        Re: Still using Google?

        There's also the option of simplifying the existing code. Something like

        tax=(income-$25k)*.15

        would be nice and easy and not require tax software at all instead of the current morass of twisted exemptions and loopholes designed to keep tax lawyers, accountants, and politicians well fed.

        1. Mark 65

          Re: Still using Google?

          But but but....progressive taxation.

          1. Eddy Ito

            Re: Still using Google?

            So taxing rich people 35% of whatever is left after allowing them to write off the interest and taxes on their $2.1M house, $150k Tesla, in addition to countless other tax dodges in addition to handing them a $7500 check for buying that Tesla is progressive?

            The last I saw, Warren Buffett's effective tax rate was about 17% and by complete coincidence, so was mine even though he made millions and I didn't. It's all going to come out in the wash anyway, might as well make it flat and easy. We can dicker back and forth about the actual numbers but there's no reason the calculation needs to be more complicated.

        2. P. Lee

          Re: Still using Google?

          At some level, the government has to provide the algorithm.

          How about describing the values and calculations in a standard form (xml?) which could be parsed into a web form?

    3. Michael Maxwell

      Re: Still using Google?

      No matter what you may think of google, this is not about them. They--and probably all other search engines--will dutifully obey the robots.txt file that the tax preparation companies put there. In other words, you're very unlikely to find the free file programs in *any* search engine.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Still using Google?

        It takes more than robots.txt to stop Google, in theory links straight to the free version page from other sites should mean they appear in Google' search results anyway.

        Meaning the tax software co's are using Google Search Console to prune them from the results or serving up something different to Google.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Still using Google?

          t doesn't mean that the Free File page from the manufacturer will appear on the search engine. The search engine already knows 'about' that page but has been explicitly told not to index and list it.

          A different site could run a highly optimised site that points to that page and their page will be indexed and searchable however they would be competing with the manufacturer's site which would usually be ranked much higher and have more prominence so you'd need to go in a few pages of search to find this third party site. Also a disallow and noindex on the free page also reduces its pagerank and ~may~ affect the prominence of pages that point to it.

  2. DCFusor
    Holmes

    Used it this year

    Awhile back, already got my refund - and then changed my withholding so there won't be another. (retired, fixed income). Turbo tax.

    My bank gave a link to the "free" stuff. Yeah...they of course knew all my numbers from last year, but of course flung me from page to page endlessly to verify nothing changed...and at every turn, was one accidental click away from "let's just pay for this" instead of my typing it in and re-looking up the death date of a parent (long ago, and I don't remember birthdays either) and endless other details.

    And this was the really "free" version, which my bank was kind enough to provide the link for (and authorization to check the doggone numbers yet again).

    The tax filer companies are ignorant MBAs, and use "dark patterns" to get you into the pay-for zero added value crap. If they let the government provide the free service, we all know from copious experience that it would stink so badly we'd gladly pay to get it done, they obviously already have all the numbers and can do it right, but they evidently don't teach those MBA's the obvious. What a bunch of..."can't print this, do duh duh duh".

    1. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Used it this year

      It must be a us specific problem. Even in the well known socialist Swiss Confederation your cantonal government provided free and functional software ten years ago.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        As does France - and actually now you have to use it. Plus, it works rather well.

        1. Remy Redert

          The Netherlands here, same deal. I don't think they force you to use it, but it works pretty well and almost everything is pre-filled so filing is very low effort.

    2. Wapiya
      Facepalm

      Re: Used it this year

      Even Germany, land of paper money and forms, does provide a free version on the government website to file your taxes (since 1999). Even with digital signature, online filing, possible printout of filled out forms for old school filing and all. This year will be the last with a full client version. The website has been the main system for the last 5 years.

      They call it ELSTER, (german acronym for electronic tax declaration) but the acronym does translate to magpie and shows some sense of humor.

      The paid for programs all have to use the Elster client libraries to connect and if your are a freelancer/company you have to use the electronic version with digital signature to file our taxes (even monthly VAT) since 2005. But then you are not required to file a paper version.

      All merkin non-tax forms I had to use always had this nice text about "help us to make this form/process simpler to use. Seems that tax is an exemption.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Unhappy

      Re: Used it this year

      Used it this year by following a link from https://apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile/jsp/index.jsp. Missed it last year, didn't know any better and let HRB charge me ~140 even though it was free from them the year before. I wrongly guessed it was just for something like the numbers being bigger (you better believe I haven't made $65K in MY LIFE let alone a year) so yeah it's my fault for not doing my homework. When I heard HRB was lobbying against the IRS simply grinding all the info they already had, I was disgusted and preparing to file by hand on paper. I can't create an account at irs.gov in order to use their own free e-file system because they want some number that IDs me, and the only one from their list I could maybe use is student loan account number-- which apparently I don't know in spite of saving the collection of collection notices, and nobody else seems to know either. Then I found out about FFA and found another link so I went back and logged into HRB again-- and they "punished" me for choosing to free-file by making me re-enter a bunch of info that was same as when I paid them last year.

      Then they bodged up the W-2 entry (I couldn't just upload a JPG, they wanted my phone browser to do a bunch of shit to send a picture which it wouldn't) and it wouldn't let me fix the missing school district withholding. The live chat support monkey first didn't even know that SD-100 is a form and then told me that it wasn't done by them, I'd have to do it myself (i.e. on paper), even though I absolutely did it last year in their site, which then didn't exactly instruct me to send Ohio ~$150 so I got an unhappy email later that summer about the amount owed according to the SD-100 they did in fact file electronically, so I paid it ASAP, avoiding late charges (whew). But this year I just went back to tax.ohio.gov where I already had the account from previously paying, filed SD-100 electronically--piece of cake, still for free, got the same pre-withholding numbers as HRB came up with, and paid the difference.

      100 years ago: "give me your tired, your poor"

      Today: "hope you like horse shit!!!1!"

    4. skeptical i
      Happy

      Re: Used it this year

      So, it sounds like the time I spent filing taxes (main form plus a handful of schedules) "by hand" (scratch copies, calculator, pencils, typewriter for "final" submitted version because why not) may have been smaller and less hassle-ful than trying to navigate the "free" systems? Kewl. It's probably some form of early onset senility, but I actually don't mind doing the forms and picking through the puzzle.

      Also, in my town (and likely many others) the United Way (a community betterment non-profit) offers its "VITA" (volunteer income tax assistance, I think) program in which volunteers are trained to do basic tax form (plus some of the schedules) completion and then do this service for lower-income people. Might be another option to trying to find (and use without tripping over a pay-grenade) the "free" filing software.

    5. ratfox

      Re: Used it this year

      If they let the government provide the free service, we all know from copious experience that it would stink so badly we'd gladly pay to get it done

      I don't know why you people are so negative about government services. I fill my tax report on a government website, it is simple and efficient. I have more or less the same memories from Canada, and the other places I've lived.

    6. MJB7

      Re: Used it this year

      UK too. The free software from HMRC is _slightly_ limited, but I suspect that the limitations won't affect more than 1% of the population (and about two thirds of all tax-payers don't need to file tax returns at all).

  3. Pontius

    'tis the Merkin way

    SOP. Land of the 'free' and all that...

    1. Velv
      Boffin

      Re: 'tis the Merkin way

      And it’s going exactly the same way in the UK with HMRCs push to “make tax digital”.

      There’s been articles here on El Reg about the new digital filing for VAT. HMRC has published a list of approved software, crucially however there is no price comparison, so you need to trawl the 200 to find a free one. And many of the paid options have the word “free” spread across their pages so search engines don’t help.

      Just wait for then next round when SA100 Personal Tax requires a software return...

      1. Insert sadsack pun here

        Re: 'tis the Merkin way

        Do you have any examples of the free ones, then?

        1. JetSetJim

          Re: 'tis the Merkin way

          There's at least 4 here

          1. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: 'tis the Merkin way

            I tried that. £30 per year is not my idea of free.

            1. JetSetJim

              Re: 'tis the Merkin way

              There's free ones listed, not £30/year

          2. Phil Endecott

            Re: 'tis the Merkin way

            It would help if your lmgtfy link said MTD not MDT.

            1. JetSetJim

              Re: 'tis the Merkin way

              oops, lol

      2. vmistery

        Re: 'tis the Merkin way

        I’m not sure you can really compare the US system to the U.K. as most people in the U.K. are under PAYE and never have to complete a return. Also online returns are easy and free direct with HMRC for individuals. I’m definitely not one to defend HMRC but a company having to pay a small amount for software doesn’t seem to be that unfair when you consider how much the world stuffs down Oracle and Microsoft’s trousers.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: 'tis the Merkin way

          "most people in the U.K. are under PAYE and never have to complete a return"

          I've never had to file a tax return, but a while ago they did send me a letter saying they thought I might have been paying the wrong amount of tax and please could I post them details of all the money I'd earned over the last five years or so.

          Obviously I took the grown-up choice and ignored the letter, until six months later when the next letter arrived telling me they'd checked it out and please accept a check for a £500 refund.

      3. JulieM
        Boffin

        Re: 'tis the Merkin way

        The UK tax submission API is published in full, so you can at least write your own software.

        https://developer.service.hmrc.gov.uk/api-documentation/docs/api

        Boffin, because you will need to be able to understand two very different disciplines to make sense of any of it .....

    2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: 'tis the Merkin way

      tis the government way, be bought and paid for by the highest bidder. Just that other countries do it buying and selling a little differently. The net is average citizen gets screwed.

    3. cortland

      Re: 'tis the Merkin way

      "Fee", see?

    4. RuffianXion
      Joke

      Re: 'tis the Merkin way

      'Merkin' way? What do wigs have to do with taxes?

    5. LDS Silver badge

      Re: 'tis the Merkin way

      Right - it's incredible how the United Corporations of America can blackmail the government "of the people, by the people, for the people" into not offering citizens services they pay for with their taxes.

      Pharma companies hindered any government large deal to lower pharmaceutical prices, tax software ones don't allow for government-issued software to file governments papers???

      Here you have free software to file your papers whatever amount you have to declare. It's a basic software and won't help you much but automating some computations and performing some checks, but if you know what you are doing, or can take time to understand the instructions. it's fully functional.

      And you need it only if you are not an employee, or an employee with properties/other source of incomes beyond given limits. Otherwise you get a web pre-compiled model which you can accept or modify with additional information, and submit it on the revenue service web site.

      Once you looked at USA as the cutting-edge country, not it looks more and more one that has lost its compass long ago, and where citizens rights are trumped over by a few lobbies interests - and that means "democracy" gave way to an "oligarchy" - and no lipstick on the pig face will help.

      1. Blazde

        Re: 'tis the Merkin way

        [from article] "there are numerous examples of where the industry has actively lobbied to prevent lawmakers from simplifying the tax code"

        This might be the most horrific bit of all this. The 'beautiful efficient free-market', source of, rather than solution for, wasteful government bureaucracy? We desperately need some new economic models to explain, predict and prevent this kind of clearly degenerative business activity in a way that wins over the free-market fundamentalists, and definitely without the solution being "government makes all tax software".

    6. hplasm
      Happy

      Re: 'tis the Merkin way

      Land of the 'free' <yet hidden>.

      FTFY

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Flame

    Turbo-Tax and H&R Block

    Lying, cheating, miserable greedy bastards the both of them. I hope the IRS nails them and let's add audit the books and the board members.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Turbo-Tax and H&R Block

      As the article mentions, the corporate section has lots more money to spend on lawyers than the IRS. Members of congress are also prone to being "bought" by companies to push their own agenda.

      It's amazing that anything in favour of the little person ever gets done in American politics.

      1. Anonymous Coward
      2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Turbo-Tax and H&R Block

        Remember:

        "Money is people too" (to reword a phrase...)

  5. ThatOne Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Amazing (in a bad way)

    This system sounds like extortion to me. There are countries where the whole tax filing procedure boils down to showing you a form and asking "that's what we have about you, did we oversee something?" and 99.99% of the time you just have to click "All fine, go ahead".

    So they make it voluntarily complicated so people have to buy expensive 3rd party software? What's next? Protection fees?

    (And before anyone tries, that's not free market, that's milking the serfs.)

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Amazing (in a bad way)

      >that's not free market, that's milking the serfs

      That's what serfs are for

      1. TimMaher Silver badge

        Re: Amazing (in a bad way)

        Up vote for that @Yaac.

        I tried milking a serf but it squawked and flew away.

        No wait... that was a peasant.

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Amazing (in a bad way)

      Mind you in some countries for most people there's very little they need to tell the taxman. In the UK most people have nothing useful to tell HMRC. If you're not a contractor then about the only thing worth reporting is payments into a private pension if you are a higher rate tax payer. That's about the only thing that can reduce your tax bill. And even then, after a couple of years HMRC sent me a cut down form and just asked for that information and any savings.

      These days it's unlikely they care about savings because of the allowance and low interest rates. So I bet for over 90% of the UK workforce PAYE is all that matters and that's automatic.

      Of course that doesn't mean we have a simple tax system. Gawd no. More likely it means that the system has evolved to the point where nothing the serfs do matters and it's better to keep them in the dark about how the government fleeces them :-/

    3. Michael Maxwell

      Re: Amazing (in a bad way)

      Well, I did see a simplified US tax form once. Line 1: How much did you make last year? Line 2: Send it all in.

  6. elDog

    There are some free (no cost, no charges) alternatives such as this fantastic workbook/spreadsheet

    https://sites.google.com/site/excel1040/

  7. redpawn

    Worse than free antivirus

    when it comes to actually getting it. Helped my son file free with Turbo Tax. After starting the free addition and only having two w2 forms to enter and a only a few thousand in income, the program recommended repeatedly that one of their pay programs would be better. Lots of "we recommend" or things like "optimize your refund with", "get audit defense for only...".

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh yeah, another law we passed <b>for you!</b>

    That much touted tax reform eliminated the deduction for cost of tax software. Don't remember the politicians mentioning that coming. Don't remember the tax software companies fighting that and letting us know. They are both working against us.

  9. JohnFen

    "We are also encouraged that during this tax season our TurboTax Free File Program donated nearly 1.2 million tax returns free of charge to taxpayers."

    My, how generous of them! Despite having a sweetheart deal that ensures that they can soak people, they still make a token effort toward doing what they've promised in return. Truly magnanimous.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Given that anything one does online is usually monetized by selling your information, do these companies do that? Seems like with as greedy as they are, they're sitting on a gold mine.

  10. Nick Kew

    El Reg should help here

    US taxpayers are not my concern, so I don't know why I'm commenting, but ...

    When El Reg publishes an article like this, should it not include links to the free alternatives? Or - best - identify reputable third-parties who maintain lists of such software, and link to those? Thereby doing your bit towards making them easier to find in a Google search.

    I can see a link for one product ("Turbotax"), but are they the only offender? If so, why give them free publicity? If not, where are the others?

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: El Reg should help here

      There's a link near the bottom to an IRS site which lists free products.

  11. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

    Ah America. Land of the vested interest and an exceeding rich third world country

    1. allthegoodnamesweretaken
      Trollface

      I object! This is an insult to Third World countries everywhere. I live in one and we're far more civilised than this. Do our taxes online and for free. Or you go in to the branch and they help you. For free. The sods rob us blind after that but at least we only get screwed over once.

  12. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I'm assuming that the USA

    Does not believe in PAYE systems?

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: I'm assuming that the USA

      I seem to remember that there are a lot of things you can get deductions from over there.

      There's a guide here.

      "There are hundreds of deductions and credits out there. Here’s a drop-down list of some common ones, as well as links to our other content that will help you learn more."

      But it seems they can go the route we do and just accept a single deduction (what we call a personal tax allowance).

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: I'm assuming that the USA is where the game is rigged.

        It's the American mentality to want a "deal". So, instead of a logical system based on income and family size we have deductions. Not everyone can use them but hey... we have a "good deal on taxes". Around tax time, the conversations talk about how much they got as a "refund" and not grumbling about how much they actually paid.

        And let's not forget that the government likes it because most folks miss out a lot of deductions so end up paying more tax than they should.

        1. JoMe

          Re: I'm assuming that the USA is where the game is rigged.

          Yeah even the "more tax than they should" is still significantly less than EU taxes. By a large margin

          1. JohnFen

            Re: I'm assuming that the USA is where the game is rigged.

            Only if you're looking at income taxes in isolation. Taken as a whole, the difference between the two isn't so huge. And if you factor in the other differences, such as things that aren't technically taxes in the US but are mandatory anyway, that difference becomes even smaller.

        2. JohnFen

          Re: I'm assuming that the USA is where the game is rigged.

          "So, instead of a logical system based on income and family size we have deductions."

          But nobody has to play that game. You can (mostly) just take the standard deduction and be done with it. That's what I prefer to do. Sure, I end up paying more than I'm technically obligated to, but I get repaid in terms of much less hassle and aggravation.

    2. bpfh Silver badge

      Re: I'm assuming that the USA

      Someone would probably sue the federal government for being too intrusive and knowing too much about you...

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: I'm assuming that the USA

        Yes, it's very different when you have to spend time and money to file data they should already know....

    3. sawatts

      Re: I'm assuming that the USA

      The US system seems like another way to levy hidden taxes on the population.

  13. JLV
    Mushroom

    ah, Turbotax Canada.

    Enter a T5008, basically a form you fill out at stock sale time that says a) how much you sold it for, b) how much you bought it for and c) your expenses.

    Now, it seems straightforward enough to enter 1 line per line on your paper T5008. But, if your investments have traded a bunch that can mean a lot of lines (no not necessarily lots of $$$ :-(

    Turns out Turbotax caps it at 17 lines.

    But of course Turbotax being Turbotax they dont tell you about it until you’ve entered everything manually up to line 16 and run out of lines.

    The answer: sum up costs, sales and expenses and enter 1 line with all 3 data points. Which you could have done right away.

    The interface sucks, they havent fixed any of it in years and their help system is throwing you off to a forum with just a bunch of regular users and where the only time their people chip in is to remove critical posts.

    Wanna look at last year’s return while filling this year? How dare you!!! DRM to the rescue to make it as hard as possible, especially if you’ve changed machine.

    Using Ufile now. 5 times as cheap, twice as easy, autofeeds previous filing and an actual help system (Online though, but being on a mac means little choice in the matter anyway.).

    1. Chris 244

      Use StudioTax

      Free, no silly line limits, auto-entry for T3 T4 T5 etc. Works great.

    2. GrapeBunch

      Canada? Pity.

      In Canada. I've been using studiotax.com, which is free. Been reasonably happy with it for 5? years.

      Reading between the lines of the comments, I think the complexity and cussedness of Canada's tax system lies somewhere between USA (Byzantine) and Europe (pie). Canada has programs such as RRSP and TFSA that ordinary tax payers take advantage of.

      The Canada Revenue Agency likes to get you to receive notices electronically. Then you have to go to their secure website which isn't necessarily that well organized. Meantime, they won't ever answer your inquiries by e-mail. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? Not in Canada. They also like it a lot when you file electronically, and then they are in the habit of asking for slips (such as receipts for tax-deductible donations) that one used to attach to the paper return, but are verboten in electronic filings. So Canada is no tax haven in any sense, but I do feel sorry for our sometimes cousins to the south.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Canada? Pity.

        If you are measuring by lines of code, India is the most complex, and the UK is in second place.

  14. Stratman

    The Land of the Paid For

    On so many levels.

  15. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    +++ Out Of Cheese Error +++

    1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

      +++ Divide by cucumber error +++

      +++ Reinstall universe and reboot +++

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the register

    I wish you could help those tax soft companies spread the word by using appropriate txt to index, follow that will lead people to the register article which includes links to all the free tax software, and may the google link to this article hit the first search page, and stay there for ever (well, if pigs could fly!). Also, some sort of B. Straisand effect would be handy too, if other online news outlets were to pick up on this subject.

  17. jonnycando

    Well, my income is sufficiently complicated that it precludes the use of Free File altogether...but i can't say that I would ever have any problem finding the service...Google will tell you exactly what you want to know, you just have to know how and what to ask. And El Reg's article does point that out indirectly.

  18. mptBrain
    Holmes

    The free link should be a little more prominent for anyone that needs it: https://www.irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-for-free

    I've always had to start at that IRS website to get the free version of H&R Block to work.

    And, yep, the free version does all it can to try to make you upgrade to the paid version.

    Earning less than the 66k is the easy part.

    Work 3 or more jobs? Out of luck, free version only accepts TWO W2s...

    Get a bonus? Job consider you an independent contractor? or whatever other reason you get a 1099 MISC form? Can't use Free File.

    Want to import the info from your previous year so you don't have to type it? Out of luck; it's not available in the free system, even if you filled with the same company! ("The free system and paid service system don't 'talk' to each other", states the friendly webchat guru; though it oddly knows when you don't enter a value that should match the previous year...)

    Want to file a state return using the info you just put in for your federal tax? They'll charge you for that. Even better, live in a state that has no state income tax? They still offer to charge you to file a non existent state income form! (and I'm not just talking about if you hypothetically live in New Hampshire and might have to file in Maine if you worked across state lines for a particular year... No, the system specially offers to file your NH State income tax forms for you, even when all your income was earned in New Hampshire... Wonder how much they charge you to tell you your state doesn't collect income tax...)

    Not all free preparers will give you all the tax breaks you deserve. One year, I compared a few different sites, and 2 of them didn't calculate the tax savings for investing in the company 401K. What else do the free versions hide from you?

    So many different ways they try to get you to pay instead of filing for free.

    And every company has different caveats for the free filing, not just H&R Block. It's like you have to be a detective to find the truly free file that gives you all the tax breaks you're eligible for...

    So, yeah, you can save some money by checking out the IRS website first, but you typically have to click thru from IRS to the tax preparer website to activate the "freeness" each and every year...

    Like the ending of our national anthem says:

    Secret Landing-page for the "free", and the home-page of the paid...

  19. David Pearce

    The Malaysian tax assessment system has to be about the most efficient and well run service provided by the government. We have a parallel religious taxation system to make life much more complicated and I still got this years refund in a few days straight into my bank account.

    So even developing countries can do this efficiently for free.

  20. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Meanwhile in Canada...

    In Canada we merely search for StudioTax.

    StudioTax is graciously offered at no cost to the taxpayer public by its generous creators.

    It imports the previous year's fixed data, one then types in one's new T4 and other information slips, review the data, and then submit online to the Canada Revenue Agency by e-file.

    If one was brave, the entire process might be done in 20 minutes. But careful triple-checking everything manually adds perhaps another hour.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Copies of W2s and 1099s are sent to the IRS

    The IRS already has a lot of information from the copies of W2s and 1099s that are required to be sent. Complexity is the key factor in the system here. It starts with the paycheck, taxes are withheld but so are things like health insurance premiums and retirement savings contributions. If a withholding is non-taxable it reduces the tax withheld so a calculation has to be performed to arrive at taxable and nontaxable income. Did I mention tax brackets? Income is taxed in progressive ranges at progressive rates. But that's not all, there are three taxes at the federal level and in my circumstance two at the state level and three at the local level. You can then accrue tax deductible and tax creditable transactions throughout the year oh and for more fun some credits are termed refundable. Complexity typically diminishes at the state and local levels usually not allowing deductions or credits usually found at the federal level.

    All the back and forth occurs and has to be reconciled annually between sometime in February and April 15th-ish by filing your taxes during the US tax season. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of complexity of the US Tax code. Do not forget that much of the code is both precise and ambiguous at the same time. It can be precise if you you look close at a sentence or phrase, but back off to paragraph or larger scale and the artistic beauty of ambiguity takes form. Tables in instructions can represent precision on a larger scale, but footnotes sprinkled in the right amount in the right way bring the appropriate ambiguous cloud of confusion.

    Even the most simple of tax filing situations will have complexities. The most recent tax reform eliminated some deductions and also the 1040A and 1040EZ tax forms. US income taxpayers must all now use the long form 1040 which I think may have been reduced, but never fear there are sure to be more worksheets and schedules to make up for that. That reform like many before also altered the brackets mentioned above. Change is good!

    I started my taxpaying career using a product called Personal Tax Edge. It was bought out by Turbo Tax but was allowed to continue for a few years. I used Turbo Tax for a year or two. Then I found TaxAct (from the makers of PTE) and continued. I had to go online with TaxAct after I abandoned Windows for Linux. All the while there were free options of PTE and TaxAct I used and I recommended them to others but at most $30 for the final year I paid to help make sure the products I liked remained available. I tried CreditKarma's free online product but it's Q&A process mis-identified some details so I had to amend the return, but had to go back to TaxAct to do that. I used FreeTaxUSA this year for federal. Pennsylvania has free online filing. The local taxes are handled by Berkheimer, also a free online filing option, or upload scanned paper for the "complex" situation of moving between tax districts.

    I tried to start doing the federal taxes this year by fillable forms from the IRS website. I felt I would have to code the instructions into a program to follow the convoluted (il)logic in order to manually fill out the forms. I chose instead to spend that time finding another free option. What caused me to do this was the fact that TaxAct increased their effective pricing by encoding limits to functionality in their product. You could not claim some credits, or deductions, or enter certain 1099s without upgrading to the higher priced variations of TaxAct.

    anonymous because I'm revealing too much

    1. elDog

      Re: Copies of W2s and 1099s are sent to the IRS

      My earlier post cited a free/open alternative:

      https://sites.google.com/site/excel1040/

      I have very simple taxes and have used it for 4+ years. My partner has much more complex taxes and just started using this (instead of TT) for the last two years. It's what she recommends (and she's a controller for a large US corporation.)

  22. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Although Google are doing the right thing in honouring the robots.txt file which the software companies are blocking indexing of the pages which refer to the free versions. They could do more for when people search for filing tax for free in pushing the IRS page with the links to all the software download pages to the top of the listings.

    Although the only downside to that would be no doubt these dodgy software companies would periodically rename the page of the free software download so that person clicking on a link in the IRS page would get a 404 error and be taken to the home page where only the paid versions are showing.

  23. PassingStrange

    The estate of Douglas Adams should sue for plaigarism

    "But, Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."

    "Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything."

    “But the plans were on display…”

    “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

    “That’s the display department.”

    “With a flashlight.”

    “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

    “So had the stairs.”

    “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

    “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

  24. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    So 70% of people earn less than $66k ?

    Well

    That sheds a whole different light on most peoples earning power in the "Land of the Fee."

    I guess if the IRS agrees another deal like that they will need to insure "Is accessible to search engines" in the contract details.

    1. Phil Endecott

      Re: So 70% of people earn less than $66k ?

      I’m curious, did you think they would be richer or poorer than that?

      1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

        Re: So 70% of people earn less than $66k ?

        Isn't the US supposed to be "the richest country in the world"?

        Most people would expect higher.

        1. JohnFen

          Re: So 70% of people earn less than $66k ?

          The US likes to perpetuate all sorts of myths about the US. This is one of them. The US is extremely wealthy if you take all of wealth into account, but most of that wealth is concentrated in a small number of entities.

    2. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

      Re: So 70% of people earn less than $66k ?

      Then this must be even more enlightening:

      https://money.cnn.com/2017/01/12/pf/americans-lack-of-savings/index.html

  25. Sampler

    Shut them down

    Egregious activities at the determent of the collective, they should be shut down, those in charge imprisoned or precluded from running a business again.

    We do this to enough of the shit bags the others will eventually capitulate out of fear it happening to them.

    1. John G Imrie
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Shut them down

      That's crazy communist talk, report to room 101 for re-education.

      Yours,

      The Management.

    2. JoMe

      Re: Shut them down

      Slow down there, Stalin, Mao is getting jealous.

  26. JulieM

    Tax Submission

    The US Government must surely publish their API for tax submissions. Otherwise, how would the big proprietary dinosaurs make their software work? Beside which, not publishing the tax submission API sounds dangerously close to unconstitutional. Naming only specific private corporations as permitted to have access to certain information sounds very much like a bill of attainder.

    Just because there isn't a major player offering a proprietary "free" solution now (beware: any software that doesn't come with the Source Code and Modification Rights is overpriced, even if you didn't pay for it with pound notes), doesn't mean that the Open Source Community won't come up with something. Good old-fashioned spite can still be a powerful motivating factor for writing software. And that usually goes double, if extensive reverse-engineering is required to circumvent a stupid and unconstitutional law.

    Furthermore, given the likely difficulties involved in persuading a piece of proprietary software to play ball with an Open Source extension module (the dinosaurs make this hard for us on purpose; they think they are Gods, and become envious of mortals) I can see a complete Open Source tax solution stepping in and taking over the whole of the "cheap" end of the market.

  27. Aladdin Sane
    Flame

    Scumbags.

  28. Randesigner

    Not to mention the Slurp

    If you've ever read the privacy policy for E-filing, these guys are allowed to scrape some pretty valuable marketing info from your tax return: Name, address, income, marital status, vehicle info, home info -- basically anything you need to provide to the IRS is also theirs.

  29. DaveCheckley
    WTF?

    Turbo Tax have the free option on their home page

    At the very top of the TurboTax home page is a link to TurboTax Free. Perhaps I'm missing something, or perhaps this is a non-story?

  30. Gordan

    Same here in UK with MTD

    It's funny that MTD does effectively the same thing here. It basically forces people to buy MTD certified commercial software to submit their VAT returns instead of just entering the data into the web form for free.

  31. Daedalus

    TANSTAAFL!

    Seriously all you lot! Where do you think the money to develop tax software comes from? Without the paid versions of TT etc. there wouldn't be a free version. Anybody here like working for free? You all seem to like getting stuff for nothing.

    For the record I make quite a bit more than Joe Schmoe, buy Turbo Tax every year for less than $50 and file Federal and State returns at no further cost other than my time. I file online but send the payments in by cheque because reasons. I don't have a particularly complicated situation but even back when the kids were in college it wasn't that difficult to sort out a return. I could go to an accountant, who would probably use Turbo Tax anyway, or an H&R Block office, but that means exposing my stuff to a third or fourth party at more cost.

    Sure, the IRS in the US could do what the HMRC does in the UK. At greater cost! UK pundits have applauded the comparative cheapness of the US system, at least in terms of tax money spent on admin.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. JoMe

    Erm...

    I just went to the main site of those listed and the free one was there for the taking, some of them on the home page. Not sure why this is a problem?

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