free file

Why “Free File” Isn’t Free

The IRS already knows what I made, what taxes I’ve paid, and even what my mortgage interest was last year. Why do I have to fill out tax forms? Turns out there’s a very specific reason, and you’re not going to like it. At the turn of the century, tax preparers like TurboTax and H&R Block negotiated a deal with the US government that prevented this very thing. In exchange, these tax companies agreed to offer a “Free File” online tax program for most tax filers. But while perhaps honoring the letter of that agreement, they used dark patterns and other subtle psychological tricks to push tax payers into pricey, unnecessary tax applications. Justin Elliott from ProPublica will explain the sordid history of “free” online tax preparation and the cat-and-mouse game companies like Intuit (maker of TurboTax) have been playing with regulators.

Justin Elliott has been a reporter since 2012 with ProPublica, where he has covered money and influence in the Obama and Trump administrations, the American Red Cross and TurboTax maker Intuit. He has produced stories for outlets including The New York Times and National Public Radio, and his work has spurred congressional investigations and changes to federal legislation.

Further Info:

  • ProPublica Free File stories:
  • IRS official Free FIle site:
  • How to file for free: