(BOISE) – General Lawrence Wasden today secured approximately $843,000 from the owner of TurboTax, Intuit, for deceiving consumers into paying for tax services that should have been free.
As a result of the multistate agreement, Intuit will pay $141 million in restitution. In Idaho, 27,237 customers will receive checks for about $30 each. Affected consumers will automatically receive notices and a check by mail.
In addition to the payments, Intuit must suspend TurboTax’s “free, free, free” ad campaign that lured customers with promises of free tax preparation services, only to deceive them into paying for services.
“Intuit tricked thousands of Idahoans into paying for services that should have been free,” Wasden said. “But the company got caught and this settlement now forces it to pay for its misdeeds. I’m very pleased with this result for those affected.”
An investigation into Intuit began after ProPublica reported that the company was using deceptive digital tactics to steer low-income consumers toward its commercial products and away from federally-supported free tax services.
Intuit has offered two free versions of TurboTax. One was through its participation in the IRS Free File Program, a public-private partnership with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which allows taxpayers earning roughly $34,000 and members of the military to file their taxes for free. In exchange for participating in the program, the IRS agreed not to compete with Intuit and other tax-prep companies by providing its own electronic tax preparation and filing services to American taxpayers.
In addition, Intuit offers a commercial product called “TurboTax Free Edition,” which is only free for taxpayers with “simple returns” as defined by Intuit. However, the TurboTax “freemium” product is only free for approximately one-third of U.S. taxpayers. In contrast, the IRS Free File product was free for 70 percent of taxpayers.
The multistate investigation found that Intuit engaged in several deceptive and unfair trade practices that limited consumers’ participation in the IRS Free File Program. The company used confusingly similar names for both its IRS Free File product and its commercial “freemium” product. Intuit bid on paid search advertisements to direct consumers who were looking for the IRS Free File product to the TurboTax “freemium” product instead. Intuit also purposefully blocked its IRS Free File landing page from search engine results during the 2019 tax filing season, effectively shutting out eligible taxpayers from filing their taxes for free. Moreover, TurboTax’s website included a “Products and Pricing” page that stated it would “recommend the right tax solution,” but never displayed or recommended the IRS Free File program, even when consumers were eligible for the free product.
Under the agreement, Intuit will provide restitution to millions of consumers who started using TurboTax’s Free Edition for tax years 2016 through 2018 and were told that they had to pay to file even though they were eligible to file for free. Consumers are expected to receive a direct payment of approximately $30 for each year that they were deceived into paying for filing services.
Intuit has also agreed to reform its business practices, including:
- Refraining from making misrepresentations in connection with promoting or offering any online tax preparation products;
- Enhancing disclosures in its advertising and marketing of free products;
- Designing its products to better inform users whether they will be eligible to file their taxes for free; and
- Refraining from requiring consumers to start their tax filing over if they exit one of Intuit’s paid products to use a free product instead.
All 50 states and Washington D.C. signed onto the agreement.