Surprisingly Not a Rip Off

My daughter got her first W-2 last week, and she asked me to help her get her refunds. Her W-2 had a link to an IRS e-file site that was broken, so I helped her find, which was recommended by the New York State Department of Revenue. Considering that it was funded by the Wal-Mart foundation and used H&R Block’s website, I figured there would be more than a few fucks thrown in. Nope – it is actually free for anyone making less than $58K/year. You can e-file state and local returns, and arrange for direct deposit of refunds. No hidden fees, no come-ons, just service.

This should be unremarkable, but of course it isn’t, given the marketing of “early refunds” (i.e., loans) and unnecessary tax advice to people who would get full refunds via a 1040EZ. It’s nice to see that there’s at least one place where hard-working people who have given Uncle Sugar a tax-free loan in the form of their withholding won’t get ripped off when they attempt to get their money back.

45 replies
  1. 1
    raven says:

    One of my wingnut buddies was howling that Obama made his taxes go up!!!!

  2. 2
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Wait for it… wait… that other shoe is going to drop sooner or later.

  3. 3
    Richard Shindledecker says:

    I also recommend for those over 58k. 8 bucks federal/ 8 bucks state and local, all forms included and supported.
    I’ve used it now for four years without a hitch and it’s catching on with some of my friends.

  4. 4
    Baud says:


    Your own fault for having wingnut buddies. ;-)

  5. 5
    sparrow says:

    There are several services that do free filing for anyone with income below $58,000. I’ve used freefilefillableforms the last 3 years and it has worked very well every time.

  6. 6
    debit says:

    @raven: As someone who works in a tax office, it’s been my experience that most people have zero understanding about their taxes and why they get a refund or owe.

  7. 7
    Sayne says:

    Is it just for New York State, or does it work for others? I’m in Virginia.

  8. 8
    raven says:

    @Baud: Ha, he and I can at least talk about about this shit.

  9. 9
    Napoleon says:

    Is there anywhere you can file on-line for free regardless of income?

  10. 10
    Baud says:

    There are probably lots of decent services out there for folks. But bad actors taints the whole industry. Bad money always chases out good.

  11. 11
    NotMax says:

    Hoping the refund comes in the form of a check and not a Walmart gift certificate.

  12. 12
    gene108 says:


    I think revising the W4 form would help.

    I find people do not understand the purpose of the “worksheet” at the top of the form and just mark off a bunch of stuff and total it. They then figure their work is done and do not put the number in Box 5, where it asks for the total number of deductions you want to take.

    Also, we need to change the terminology from “deductions” to “allowances”. Deductions are a counter-intuitive term. The more deductions you take, the less money is taxed, i.e. less money is deducted from your pay – counter-intuitive.

    I think going with allowances and doing away with deductions as the proper term would help, as opposed to using them interchangeably.

  13. 13
    geg6 says:

    I’d say about 90% of filers could easily use one of the free or low cost websites to file their taxes. Did my federal for free and state forms for $12 or less at several different ones the last several years. And they are so easy to navigate! Just answer a few questions and the site only asks for what is required based on your answers. People act like it’s hard but it’s the easiest thing in the world. Completed my state, federal and local income taxes online in less than 45 minutes the other day. It was great.

  14. 14
    dpm (dread pirate mistermix) says:

    @Sayne: It will do federal and state for any state that has income tax, I believe.

  15. 15
    different-church-lady says:

    So, when I underpay my estimateds and wind up making a payment when I file my 1040, that means Uncle Sugar gave me an interest-free loan, right?

  16. 16
    Sayne says:

    @dpm (dread pirate mistermix): Thanks! It’s getting blocked at my office for some reason.

  17. 17
    debit says:

    @gene108: I agree. I do payroll and have found that a lot of people think putting a 0 on their W-4 means zero will be withheld. Which leads to hysterical phone calls of, “OMG, why are you taking all my money!?”

    But the most confusion I see is with the people who just don’t understand the difference between standard and itemized deductions. They get really upset when they don’t see their expenses listed because they didn’t have enough to make it worth itemizing. I’ve taken to making piles of paper clips to use as visual aids. “This big pile is your standard deductions. These three paperclips are your receipts. Which is more? And so which would you like to use? Okay then.”

  18. 18
    dmsilev says:

    @different-church-lady: Yes, though if you undershoot by too much there’s a penalty.

  19. 19
    Jim says:

    I’ve been using TaxAct online for several years, and have been very satisfied. It now costs $14 total for Fed and State, including e-filing. My situation is a little complicated — retired, rental property, annuities, etc. — so I need more than the basics, which TaxAct handles easily. There’s a lot of competition out there, so I expect that good quality, inexpensive tax prep software will continue to be available. Just don’t fall for the come-ons that are also out there.

  20. 20
    dpm (dread pirate mistermix) says:

    @different-church-lady: As long as the sum of your estimates is more than what you paid in taxes last year. Otherwise Uncle Sugar will fine your ass.

  21. 21
    Eric U. says:

    I’m sure Walmart sees a significant bump in revinue when the refunds get issued, so it’s not all a charity

  22. 22
    gene108 says:


    People also seem to want to have a “rational” basis for the withholdings, like I now have a child, so can I claim three deductions?

    I’m like O.K. If you want you can claim more or less.

    People seem to think the taxes taken out from their paycheck are somehow tied to some sort of law / rational basis other than do you want a refund or do you want to pay taxes on April 15.

    Taxes do not need to be as confusing as they are. I think basing taxable income off of AGI as opposed to W2-Box 1 earnings is a big reason for the confusion. When figuring out what you made is more complicated than adding up Box-1 on your W2(s), you lose a lot of people right there.

    We need to make it easier to get to this point: You earned ‘x’. Your taxes are ‘y’. You paid ‘z’ in taxes already. If ‘z’ is more than ‘y’, you get money back. If ‘z’ is less than ‘y’ you owe money. Right now figuring out ‘x’ isn’t straight forward for a lot of people.

  23. 23
    Jasmine Bleach says:

    I don’t get it. Instead of spending a half-hour or more online searching for and trying to use a free tax service of unknown veracity and connections, what is so difficult about printing out a 1040EZ, taking the 10 minutes to fill it out and mailing it in (and supporting that “evil scourge” the Post Office in the process)?

    Seriously, an EZ is so easy to fill out, and no 3rd parties involved (yet another online database to be hacked that has your soc sec #, address, age, etc.).

    People mystify me sometimes . . .

  24. 24
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @gene108: Well, the kid will affect your deductions/exemptions come tax time, and that does come from the law. What you want, or at least what the IRS wants (and they can make it unpleasant for you if you strive too hard for something different), is for what you calculate on the W4 to be not too different from that. I wonder if the people fretting about the process even understand that.

  25. 25
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @debit: Or, more succinctly, “Are you paying mortgage interest, or not?”

    I have to confess, I pay to use TurboTax. For years I held off and used some combination of spreadsheets and calculators and paper forms, but as my tax situation started to get nontrivial I started making dumb mistakes and having to wrangle with the authorities over them. But I think I’m still not in the zone where paying a professional to do it for me is worth my while. Might be getting there.

  26. 26
    gene108 says:

    @Matt McIrvin:

    My point is people do not understand it.

    They seem to think they cannot take 3 allowances until they get the kid, as if the law somehow forbids people from taking more allowances than dependents they can claim.

  27. 27
    Mark S. says:

    I just did an “estimate your tax refund,” and it came to a whopping refund of $169. Doing my taxes today became less of a priority!

  28. 28
    Roger Moore says:

    There might be some selection effect going on there. People who understand taxes are a lot more likely to try doing their own.

  29. 29
    Roger Moore says:


    So, when I underpay my estimateds and wind up making a payment when I file my 1040, that means Uncle Sugar gave me an interest-free loan, right?

    Assuming the difference is small enough you don’t have to pay a penalty (i.e. interest payment for the loan from Uncle Sugar).

  30. 30
    LongHairedWeirdo says:

    Yeah, me, I hate people who give that evil, evil entity an interest free loan! Do you know how much money that costs? Do you know what interest rates are available to savers? You can sometimes find 1%, which doesn’t sound like much but could double your money in a mere 72 years!

    By contrast, giving it to the government? Why, they’ll just spend it on terrible things like the health and welfare of its citizens!

    It’d be one thing if the US government wsn’t so evil, or if the interest rates weren’t so high, or if people would rather have a big chunk of money, rather than a couple of extra, practically invisible dollars hanging around from time to time. But with all of those things? You’d be better off having your liver eaten by a raptor!

    (Yes, this is all tongue in cheek, but I do find ludicrous the idea that it’s bad, wrong, or stupid to give the government brief use of your money.)

  31. 31
    Mnemosyne says:


    Especially when I was in my mid-20s, every person I knew who got into tax trouble and ended up owing more than they could afford had screwed up their withholdings. (I always took 0 or 1, even when I had crappy low-paying jobs, because I’m not a saver and knew I wouldn’t have the money to pay later.)

  32. 32
    Monala says:

    The IRS, Goodwill and United Way were also a big part of creating It’s not a purely benevolent gesture on the part of Walmart and H&R Block.

    In addition, there are a number of free in-person tax sites available all over the country, funded by the IRS and run by local nonprofits. Go to, enter “free tax sites” in the search box, and search by zip code.

  33. 33
    Bobby Thomson says:

    Do high schools not teach people how to fill out a 1040 anymore? I mean, Christ, the EZ is so easy to fill out anyone who done gradeated the sixth grade should be able to handle it.

    EA: Seriously. Get the paper form at the god damn public library and fill it out. It ain’t rocket surgery.

  34. 34
    Bobby Thomson says:

    @Jasmine Bleach: Yes! I don’t get it, either.

  35. 35
    burnspbesq says:

    You seriously believe that if wage withholding were abolished, voluntary compliance wouldn’t go down? That people who live paycheck to paycheck would carefully squirrel away an amount necessary to allow them to write a check next April as opposed to fixing the washing machine and saying “we’ll catch up next month?”

    What other ridiculous things to you believe, dumbshit?

  36. 36
    IowaOldLady says:

    I’m always astounded by how many otherwise smart people don’t understand that if you earn enough to enter another tax bracket, that rate doesn’t apply to your whole income.

  37. 37
    Astor Column says:


    The IRS, Goodwill and United Way were also a big part of creating It’s not a purely benevolent gesture on the part of Walmart and H&R Block.

    “Purely benevolent gesture” and Walmart. That should’ve been perfectly obvious, but I was bobble-head nodding in gratitude and wonder until you pointed it out. Thank you.

  38. 38
    🎂 Martin says:

    That the IRS doesn’t have the ability to do your taxes free on the government site is more of a scandal to me than the exchange rollout. That should have been taken care of a decade ago. It’s getting closer, but it’s still not there.

  39. 39
    Glocksman says:

    Turbo Tax is part of the ‘free file initiative’, but in my case since I have a 401k, I’m apparently not eligible for Intuit’s services as they kept trying to charge me $39 for state and federal filing despite meeting the guidelines.

    So I tried TaxACT from the link on the IRS’s site, and I was able to file both state and federal returns online for free.

    The only real difference is that I had to manually enter the W2 instead of electronically importing it from whomever it is that TJX uses for their tax paperwork.

    I filed on the 30th, and the IRS says my refund is scheduled for deposit on the 6th.

    Who needs refund loans?

  40. 40
    TooManyJens says:

    @Bobby Thomson:

    Do high schools not teach people how to fill out a 1040 anymore?

    Anymore? I graduated in 1990 and was never taught that.

    And it would be nice if taxes were always simple and straightforward, but they’re not.

  41. 41

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  43. 43
    Matt McIrvin says:


    I’m always astounded by how many otherwise smart people don’t understand that if you earn enough to enter another tax bracket, that rate doesn’t apply to your whole income.

    I think this misconception has become an ideologically loaded article of faith. People believe that it hurts you to enter a higher tax bracket because it matches a story about the government punishing you for earning money.

  44. 44
    MyFreeTaxes says:

    If you meet the income criteria (household adjusted gross income is $58,000 or less in 2013) and are using (not going through another site or H&R block directly), your state and federal tax preparation and filing is 100% free and can be used in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia. tax filing software is provided by H&R Block®. H&R Block® uses Secure Transmission Control Protocol, the highest industry standards to safeguard taxpayer information.

    If you have any issues or concerns or are being charged any fees, please call our toll-free Help Line at 1-855-MY-TX-HELP (1-855-698-9435) Mon-Sat from 9am-10pm (ET) or use our live chat feature to get help.

  45. 45
    EJ says:

    It’s been years since I was able to file a 1040EZ, but Turbotax at least used to let you do it for free.

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