Intuit’s letter to ProPublica editors

News, Taxpayer Empowerment

ProPublica’s Feb. 18 story titled TurboTax is Still Tricking Customers With Tax Prep Ads That Misuse the Word “Free” is misleading, contains unsubstantiated allegations, and includes multiple factual errors.

  • The article’s headline is inaccurate, deceptive and requires a correction. The word “free” as used in TurboTax’s advertising is not misleading. Last year, out of the approximately 50 million taxpayers who filed “simple returns,” more than 11 million people paid absolutely nothing to file their taxes using TurboTax Free Edition, the product referenced in TurboTax’s advertising.  As the article correctly points out, eligibility for TurboTax Free Edition is clearly disclosed. Additionally, TurboTax customers who are not eligible for TurboTax Free Edition receive multiple clear and prominent notifications that there is a cost associated with the TurboTax product they have selected.  There is no misuse of the word “free” and we demand a correction or change in the headline.

  • It is also inaccurate to say that “Intuit has amped up” its digital advertising, as the subhead states – which shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how search advertising works. Search advertising is an auction marketplace that is pay-per-click with fluctuating costs contingent on many factors; we pay only when more people click on the ads. When more or less people seek information about our product, our spending changes. Additionally, the comparison between January 2020 and January 2019 is completely invalid, as the IRS did not open tax filing until Jan. 28th last year, due to the government shutdown, so interest varied. We request that this misleading statement also be corrected.

  • The article states that, “organic links to Free Edition appear ahead of links to Free File in many searches.” Yet the image ProPublica uses to illustrate the story actually shows the IRS Free File site ranked as the #1 organic search result for the term “free tax filing.” That the IRS ranks #1 in organic search on a generalized query that did not include the term “IRS” demonstrates the very opposite of the article’s allegations. Your article also ignores the fact that, if one searches for “IRS free taxes” for example, the first result is for IRS.gov, and TurboTax’s IRS Free File offer outranks TurboTax Free Edition. Please acknowledge the results depicted in your own screen grab and accurately depict the landscape for organic search results.

  • Most egregiously, the article misleadingly states that, “Intuit does not advertise its Free File offering on Google.”  What you fail to include is that Intuit has been advertising the entire IRS Free File Program. These paid search advertisements are sponsored by the Intuit-funded Tax Time Allies, a group of organizations that work together to promote Free File and VITA free tax preparation. The paid search ads referenced in your article as having come from the IRS (which notably did not confirm in your story that it had engaged in the advertising) are from Tax Time Allies, and thus are paid for by Intuit.  To our knowledge, the IRS has not and does not pay for any search advertising for Free File. Over the years Intuit has spent millions of dollars promoting Free File and VITA for low-income filers and this year expects to spend $2 million to promote government supported free tax preparation. This fact completely undermines your story. Please immediately correct this factual inaccuracy.

We do agree wholeheartedly with several statements in the article: Intuit is in full compliance with the agreement between the IRS and Free File Alliance; Intuit’s online ads abide by Google’s terms; TurboTax discloses on its website that TurboTax Free Edition is free for eligible simple tax returns; and Intuit has for two decades provided free tax preparation and has helped taxpayers file more completely free tax returns than all other tax prep software companies combined, including approximately 13 million last year alone.

Based on those statements we request that ProPublica immediately correct the factual errors, misleading statements and headlines noted above and in the future provide its readers with accurate and unbiased information about Intuit.

 

Rick

 

Rick Heineman

Vice President, Corporate Communications

 

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