NEW YORK — The company behind the TurboTax tax-filing program will pay $141 million to customers across the United States who were deceived by misleading promises of free tax-filing services, New York’s attorney general announced Wednesday.
Under the terms of a settlement signed by the attorneys general of all 50 states, Mountain View, California-based Intuit Inc. will suspend TurboTax’s “free, free, free” ad campaign and pay restitution to nearly 4.4 million taxpayers, New York Attorney General Letitia James said.
James said her investigation into Intuit was sparked by a 2019 ProPublica report that found the company was using deceptive tactics to steer low-income tax filers away from the federally supported free services for which they qualified — and toward its own commercial products, instead.
“For years, Intuit misled the most vulnerable among us to make a profit. Today, every state in the nation is holding Intuit accountable for scamming millions of taxpayers, and we’re putting millions of dollars back into the pockets of impacted Americans,” James said in a statement. “This agreement should serve as a reminder to companies large and small that engaging in these deceptive marketing ploys is illegal.”
“As part of the agreement, Intuit admitted no wrongdoing, agreed to pay $141 million to put this matter behind it, and made certain commitments regarding its advertising practices,” representatives for Intuit said in a blog post Wednesday. “Intuit already adheres to most of these advertising practices and expects minimal impact to its business from implementing the remaining changes going forward.”
Intuit had offered TurboTax two complimentary versions up to last year. One was through its participation in the Internal Revenue Service’s Free File Program, geared toward taxpayers earning roughly $34,000 and members of the military. Intuit withdrew from the program in July 2021, saying in a blog post that the company could provide more benefits without the program’s limitations.
The company also offers a commercial product called “TurboTax Free Edition” that is only for taxpayers with “simple returns,” as defined by Intuit.
ProPublica documents reveal that Intuit’s executives were aware of their deceit by advertising services for free, but they knew it was misleading customers.
“The website lists Free, Free, Free and the customers are assuming their return will be free,” an internal company PowerPoint presentation said. “Customers are getting upset.”
Intuit agreed to pay restitution for consumers who began using TurboTax Free Edition commercially in tax years 2016-2018 and were then told they would have to file, even though they are eligible for TurboTax as part the IRS Free File program.
James explained that for each year in which they have been deceived into paying filing services, consumers are likely to be paid a $30 per annum direct payment. You will receive mail notices and checks.
“We empower our customers to take control of their financial lives, which includes being in charge of their own tax preparation,” an Intuit spokesperson told ProPublica in a statement in 2019.
The spokesperson added that a “government-run pre-filled tax preparation system that makes the tax collector (who is also the investigator, auditor and enforcer) the tax preparer is fraught with conflicts of interest.”
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