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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shamelisted: Intuit's TurboTax Shenanigans
cl. panic, guest finance blogger

In keeping with the shame listing theme, Intuit is getting added to the list for its TurboTax shenanigans -- another in a long list of profit-mongering, customer-screwing move by those good folks down the street in Mountain View. You listening Tom Cook?

Step One: Confuse the consumer.
So you're thinking of doing your own taxes with TurboTax? Great. Just pick your product and get started right away: TurboTax Basic, TurboTax Deluxe, TurboTax Deluxe + State, TurboTax Deluxe + State + e-file, TurboTax Premier + State, TurboTax Home & Business + State or TurboTax Business. Or, instead of buying and installing software, you can use TurboTax Online Free, Deluxe or Premium.

If you get the right software CD, it includes a free download of a state program, but probably doesn't include an e-file. Do it online and it includes a free e-file, but doesn't include a state product. But not all boxes include state. But some do include e-file. But even then, only the federal e-file and not the state e-file, even if they say they include State. Oh, and state is always a download, so you better have an internet connection no matter what.

And here's the thing: these all do basically the same thing. It comes down to the nuances, and Intuit's hoping that you'll be so confused that you'll just overbuy out of fear. Or they'll stick it to you on the back end.

Step Two: Remove features.
Being the ignorant consumer that I am, I purchased TurboTax Deluxe + State from a local reseller. Why? Well, I've purchased and installed TurboTax Deluxe for the past five years. It's always done everything that I need, including options for stock and ESPP sales.

But not this year. Intuit stripped out some of the investment capabilities, including complete and total removal of any help for people with ESPP. But it was in prior versions; I went back and checked (though with decreasing ease of entry)*. This year it's gone completely.

Step Three: HA! Upgrade, asshole, and get those features back.
Well that was the plan. Make the user upgrade to get all of the features that we removed. We'll just prompt the user, take some credit card details and restore the lost functionality.

Except that it didn't prompt me to let me know that there were more features to be had. After searching to learn that I was missing features, I asked TINA for help upgrading, and followed her steps, clicking on the appointed links. Nope. No choice to upgrade. As it turns out, they never added that feature for Mac users. So even though the support site says you can directly upgrade, you actually can't on a Mac.

Unless you deal with tech support. In India. And are able to successfully convey the problem. (That took an e-mail and a chat). And then? $30 to upgrade when there was only a $20 difference in price from the retailer to have purchased Premier originally.

Step Four: Do Taxes with the WRONG information.
So TurboTax is really cool and just sucks in your information from banks, employers and brokers. No manual entry. No mistakes. Quick and easy. Until it imports incomplete information without warning.

TurboTax sucked in my stock sale from E*Trade and went on its way. One problem: it didn't receive any cost basis or sale date information. Fine, that's E*Trade's problem. But TurboTax didn't warn me that there was missing information. Nor did it tell me that it defaulted the the most conservative treatment possible. Instead, it just assumed the basis was zero, and that it was a short term capital gain. Translation: Triple the tax on that stock sale.

Only when Cl. Panic exclaimed "WTF!" and started digging into the forms did he find the error. Thanks a lot TurboTax. Deduction maximizer my ass.

Step Five: E-File.
Oh, that'll cost you. $17.95 for your federal return and another $17.95 for the state return. (Or you can use the online, e-file included version, and pay an extra $29.95 to file the state return ... a fee not originally disclosed unless you look for it.)

Postage and certified mail with electronic return receipt will cost you a mere $4.47 for each return if you trust it to the boys in blue shorts with tube socks. And you can still get a direct deposit of your refund with a paper return.

Step Six: Call Shenanigans!
It took about 3 hours of wasted time to try and get TurboTax to do everything correctly. And granted, if I had purchased Premier originally, things probably would have been smoother. But Deluxe correctly handled ESPP sales in prior years, and I trusted my past experience.

I'm sending it back under the money back guarantee. If I'm going to spend $80 and three hours of time trying to get the damned thing to work, I'm better of paying someone else to do it. Especially since blindly trusting its import feature would have resulted in an extra $20,000 in tax liability.

Hey Intuit--thanks for nothing.

If you have really basic taxes, consider the truly free I-CAN online filing brought to you by the good folks in Orange County. Free federal and state (several states available) e-filing regardless of income status.

* Compare 2007 Edition (no ESPP option), with 2006 Edition (with ESPP option).

[Edits for readability spurred by recent status promotion.]


Nonny Nu said...

Congratulations! You have made SOY SAUCE status.

Nonny Nu said...

Wow, sounds complicated. My eyes glazed over when you came to my office yesterday to tell me the story, and they glazed over again when I read your blog entry. The only thing keeping me awake were all those missing and mistyped words you stuck in there. Good thinking, Cl. Panic! That's the way to keep the readers reading...

Anyhow, I'm sorry that you had to go through all that crap. Doing taxes sucks. I just finished the Nus' on, but the return is only about 50% of what Mr. Nonny Nu expected and only 75% of what we got last year. That can't be right. I'll redo the numbers on I-CAN and see what happens.

Bob Meighan said...

It's called choice when you give customers a product that is designed for their specific tax situation. Some customers live in a state with an income tax while some may live in a state without an income tax filing requirement. Those that don't have a state filing requirement don't want to pay extra for a feature they don't use. The same can be said for customers not wanting to pay extra for benefits they don't value. For example, while TurboTax Deluxe may be the appropriate product for most customers, it may not be for those who have extensive stock transactions or rental income. They value the extra help and guidance in these areas and are willing to pay more for those benefits in Premier. So again, we give customers choice.

As for your ESPP transactions, Deluxe has not changed from last year in this area. Deluxe still handles ESPP transactions the same way. However, if you want additional guidance and help in this complex area, then we recommend TurboTax Premier. The interview that walks you through this area is much more detailed and provides the handholding that tames what would otherwise be a challenging task. Customers who value this benefit elect to pay extra for Premier. But keep in mind, this functionality (of both Deluxe and Premier) has not changed from last year. It's the same. No functionality has been removed.

Most retailers charge $30 extra for Premier (over Deluxe). However, by law we cannot dictate the price retailers charge. The fact that you found Premier at a discount is good in that there is a lot of competition in the market. However, for Intuit to undercut our retail partners or match their changing weekly deals would be administratively difficult and unwise from a channel marketing perspective.

You stated that TurboTax failed to warn you that the information you imported from E*Trade was incomplete. That's not true. If you had continued on to Final Review, our diagnostics would have picked up the incomplete information. Whether it's a missing date or a missing cost basis amount, TurboTax will flag it.

We stand behind our product and our guarantees. While I regret that you did not have a great experience, I'm sure we will make good on your refund.

Bob Meighan
VP, TurboTax

Mr. Nonny Nu said...

"the return is only about 50% of what Mr. Nonny Nu expected"

wtf! oh, that's it. i'm robbing a f'ing bank soon. bullshit taxes, and we can't even file the damn things without someone ripping us off? i've had it. i want my long pants, wooden racquet, grass courts, and all the salad i can eat without these pinko-commies all up in my stash!

where's my shotgun...

~ ~ ~

Nonny Nu said...

where's my shotgun...
It's under the bed. I dusted it last weekend and put it back where I found it. Unless you mean the rifle, which is next to the chair that's next to the bed.

Nonny Nu said...

Cl. Panic, too bad the tech support in India didn't provide the level of service and help that Mr. Meighan provided. That'll teach you to call India. Next time, just come to this blog. Then, you wouldn't have had the $20,000 scare of your life.

Cl. Panic said...

Assuming this the real VP of TurboTax, I now feel obligated to respond to his comments....

Maybe I'll even give Premier a try for comparison purposes. Only downside is a bigger refund if it doesn't work out.

Nonny Nu said...

Cl. Panic: If you need help, remember to come back here to ask questions. You know that calling India will get you nowhere--not even India.

Bob Meighan: So, Bob, are you the Bob Meighan from The Bob Meighan Band? And, how did you find your way to The World of Nonny Nu?

Bob Meighan said...

Nope. I'm not the infamous Bob Meighan from the band with the same name. Never met him and probably won't (even though my travels often take me to his area of the country... I believe AZ).

Bob Meighan

Bob Meighan said...

Oh, by the way, I'm always looking out for the most outrageous and absurd blogs about TurboTax. No, just kidding. I actually use Google to help me troll for TurboTax postings so I can listen and respond. That's how I found this one.

Whether blogs are accurate or not, they give me great insights into what people think about our products. If you don't listen and hear what customers are saying, you'll lose sight of your most important asset-- your customers. Surveys can tell you some things at a high level, but no survey can convey what this post had to say.

Bob Meighan
VP, TurboTax

Mr. Nonny Nu said...

well crap. i have to hand it to you, bob. it's like watching an enthusiastic player score against my team. for all my crying foul against you, deep down i'd love to acquire you in a trade.

~ ~ ~

p.s. this does *not* mean we are going steady.

Cl. Panic said...

And to think there would be so much fan fare for my Soy Sauce celebration!

Although I don't know whether this qualifies as one of the "most outrageous and absurd blogs about TurboTax."

stillman said...

I nominate Bob and the Shakespeare cake guy for a celebrity death match.

Nonny Nu said...

If you don't listen and hear what customers are saying, you'll lose sight of your most important asset-- your customers.
Oh, so now we're just "customers," huh? Next thing we know, you'll be commenting from India.


Mr. Nonny Nu said...

"celebrity death match."

now, are you talking insane-grade shakespearean puzzles vs. a man, a plan, a canal, turbotax? (1...2...3, start your typing!)


enter the gladiators: prof. shakespeare a.k.a. 'the bard' vs. tonight's special guest, turbotax™ vice president bob meighan, in an all-or-nothing bloodsport, including a race to center stage for weapons choosing: short sword with extra long lee press-on nails; or a pump-action bb gun with a box of 'blinding' rainbow glitter? gentlemen, remove your loincloths...?

you could writhe and wriggle, your hands loosely tied between two poles, 'for the winner,' but that's entirely up to you, stillman. we can barely fund these events as it is.

~ ~ ~

congrats cl. panic for his outstanding soy sauce achievement. well done, cl. panic! hoorah! hoorah! hooray!

Nonny Nu said...

Oh, now you have ideas. But, when I ask what is for dinner, you always say you don't know.

See, people? He isn't good for nothing after all.

Man from U.N.C.L.E. said...

Turbo Tax V.P. says, "If you don't listen and hear what customers are saying, you'll lose sight of your most important asset-- your customers. Surveys can tell you some things at a high level, but no survey can convey what this post had to say."

I wonder if anyone in the DMV trolls google "looking out for the most outrageous and absurd blogs about" the DMV and will run across NN's previous rant? Is anyone at the DMV listening?

Nonny Nu said...

The folks at DMV don't read blogs or troll Google for comments on the DMV. They know we have to go to them and they don't care. Besides, they are too busy counting down the minutes and seconds to when they are officially back on the clock.

Cl. Panic said...

it's like watching an enthusiastic player score against my team.

Well, Mr. Nonny Nu, I hope that this puts some points back up on our board. If not, you're gunna have to get out there and start modeling for more pictures.