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> The Free File Alliance, a private industry group, says 70% of American taxpayers are eligible to file for free. Those taxpayers, who must make less than $66,000, have access to free tax software provided by the companies. But just 3% of eligible U.S. taxpayers actually use the free program each year. Critics of the program say that companies use it as a cross-marketing tool to upsell paid products, that they have deliberately underpromoted the free option and that it leaves consumer data open to privacy breaches.

During the years I was eligible for this program, I used TurboTax for free through it and it worked fine. It was a basic version that didn’t support complex transactions such as capital gains but for most people making under 66k it would have worked fine.

Very interesting to see only 3% use it. It would probably work well for a lot more of those 70%.

The paper forms are also easy enough to do manually, but can’t be e-filed and so the refund comes slower.

This statistic is misleading. Throughout the filing process consumers are bombarded with opportunities to upgrade to a paid tier. They make paying more the default option and demote the controls to continue using the free version to have secondary or cancel-like styling. I had to constantly back out and go back to the free version, because I accidentally opted into a paid tier.

Another reason might be that "automatically" filling in your details from uploaded / linked documents is often a paid feature. I uploaded a doc it asked for, it showed me the info, then when I opted for the free tier it cleared the data and made me type it in myself.

Turbotax is a pioneer of dark patterns. Enter anything beyond a w2 and it wants $70.

Not quite true! I was planning to complain that Free File Fillable Forms, the only way to e-file for free regardless of income, had been taken away a couple years ago.

However, I noticed that it's back for the 2018 tax year. https://www.irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-f...

It's very basic -- it's literally just a way to fill out and submit the paper forms electronically (though it does the "add lines 35 and 36"-type arithmetic for you.) But it's an option for you procrastinators who earned more than $66K last year.

Relatedly, Massachusetts used to run a free online "TurboTax" program for all. To file your taxes you went to a government website and answered the questions. Unfortunately, that program was canceled a year ago when they upgraded systems, and now the only way to e-file is via a paid preparer.

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