It’s Tax Day Eve in these here United States of America, when we’re painfully reminded there’s a tab running for smooth roads, clean water and cheap fuel – not to mention some primo political reality TV. For some, Tax Day is a welcome end to months of anguish, for others, a nightmare of tax liability. It may also be the worst workday of the year for many a brave postal worker. Speaking of, have you hugged a postal worker recently? You should. They also like fresh-baked cookies. Anyway, I was getting to how, this year, I helped a close friend get through 30 agonized minutes of tax prep during which they lost $56.
Thing is, they were due $38.
Wait. This friend paid $56 when they were supposed to get $38?
But…but…where did the money go?
Good question. Thanks for being so helpful, playing along like this!
The answer is two compound words that so many know and trust, and nowhere near enough fear: TurboTax Online. Skip a ways down if arithmetic makes you violently ill:
Friend was due $42 from the state, minus $4 owed to the Fed. That’s $38.
TurboTax Deluxe Online, which claims to maximize deductions so you get the biggest refund, is $49.95 for the Fed. Add $39.95 to file a state return with TurboTax Online. That’s almost $90.
Friend didn’t have their checkbook handy so they paid a $3.95 fee to send that $4 to the Fed by debit card. Now we’re just shy of $94.
So, $94 owed to Intuit and $4 owed to the Fed is $98. Subtract the $42 refund from the state and my friend was out $56.
I know, right?!?
That’s $94 to Intuit, $4 to our government. Total: $98. My friend already had $42 coming from the state so they only had to chip in an extra $56.
Gosh. Why on Earth would someone do that?
Honestly…I don’t know. Tax time is sheer torture for most folks, so finding out that they could end it all for just $56 more was probably a relief. I, on the other hand (and, quite ironically, in anguish over someone else’s taxes), begged to let me show them how to file on paper and get that $38 refund.
See, my friend had no deductions to claim. Not a one. Zero. They’re single, childless, live in an apartment and only work one job. They also don’t invest or collect interest income. In other words, a perfect fit for filing the simplest paper forms in 30 minutes or less. And TurboTax blissfully ate my friend’s $98, neither saving time nor finding anything they could deduct. It wasn’t even polite enough to suggest that since it was completely worthless in my friend’s case maybe it would be so kind as to not charge them. It just kept eating. And there I sat, helpless, as my friend gave that money away. Not to a government, not to a charity or worthy cause, but to Intuit, TurboTax’s owner and master.
Yeah. So listen. If you don’t own a house, don’t have kids, don’t invest and don’t work more than one job:
You don’t need TurboTax.
You heard me. It takes about the same amount of time to file on paper and you’ll save yourself a small pile of cash. And it’s easier than you think. You copy numbers from your W-2 form and do a little adding, subtracting and multiplying. Use a calculator and round everything to the nearest dollar – then it’s almost too easy. Get Federal form 1040-EZ at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040ez.pdf (instructions at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040ez.pdf). Find your state’s form and instructions with Google or just about any other web search engine. Don’t forget to put a stamp on each envelope…and you’re done.
And there’s one additional benefit I forgot to mention: File on paper and you won’t be asked, repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, to try any of Intuit’s other services. I’m sure these services work well for some but when I go out for dinner I don’t want my waiter to offer me tomorrow’s breakfast every time he stops by my table, with no way to tell him STOP. I’m eating – I mean, filing my taxes – here!
It’s really that easy? Wow. Is any of this official tax advice, legal or otherwise?
Nope. You’re on your own!