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TurboTax may not want you or Google to see its free offering

TurboTax may not want you or Google to see its free offering
[Photo: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash]

If you had trouble finding TurboTax’s Free File Program site, which lets you file your taxes without paying a fee if your income is below a certain threshold, that may be because the company told search engines not to index the site, ProPublica reports.

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The site contains special HTML code that tells search engines like Google not to include the site in its search results.

TurboTax Online saw a 7% increase in usage this year compared to last, the company recently reported, while the free file program saw a less than 1% increase.

TurboTax, along with other tax prep companies like H&R Block, participates in the IRS’s Free File Program and provides free filing for eligible taxpayers. The IRS provides a listing of free file providers but doesn’t offer its own tax prep app, despite having a wealth of information about taxpayers’ income, in what critics say is a boon to the tax prep industry.

Far fewer taxpayers use the Free File tools than are eligible to do so, with many using paid software when they could file for free, ProPublica has previously reported.

A bill under consideration in Congress could permanently bar the IRS from developing its own digital tax prep tool.

UPDATE: Intuit shared a statement with Fast Company Friday afternoon:

TurboTax offers two free tax filing products: TurboTax Free Edition and TurboTax Free File Program, which is part of IRS Free File. Our intent in implementing our search practices was to make clear the distinction between these products by educating customers so they could find the product they were looking for. We did this by generating original content and publishing answers to frequently asked questions about the IRS Free File Program and the TurboTax Free File product, and optimizing that content to rank highly in organic search. While we believe amplifying this content meaningfully informed taxpayers and contributed to IRS Free File growth, we recognize that our overall search approach may have made it harder for some customers to find a TurboTax Free File Program landing page. So we are undertaking a thorough review of our search practices to ensure we are achieving our goal of increasing eligible taxpayers’ awareness of the IRS Free File Program and its availability.

For two decades Intuit has publicly supported and provided free tax preparation to low and moderate income taxpayers. In 1999 Intuit began the Intuit Tax Freedom Project donating online tax preparation and e-filing services to low-income taxpayers. Four years later, IRS began the Free File Program which we were proud to join to continue our work and assistance to those who need it most. Over the course of these years, we have donated more than 39 million federal tax return filings directly to taxpayers or through the IRS Free File Program and more than 17 million state tax return filings through the 23 State Free File Programs, free of charge. And we have engaged with more than 500 community-based organizations to educate filers about IRS free tax assistance programs. We, along with our 9,000 employees, are proud of that work and are deeply committed to it as a company.

We are pleased to see that the IRS Free File program grew 6% this year, and 11% over the last two years. 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. Additionally, another 50 million taxpayers are eligible to file for no cost through TurboTax Free Edition.

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