5 new ways TurboTax made filing your taxes harder this year

“The tax code is too complicated—everyone needs an advocate in their corner to get the best outcome during tax season,” Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, wrote at the start of 2024. Alas, a growing number of Americans do not want that extra helper to be TurboTax, the tax-preparation giant’s multibillion-dollar service.

To them, that commiserating feels false coming from a company that has spent more than 20 years lobbying to keep the federal tax code as is—that is, too complicated—because making it cheaper and easier hurts its bottom line. In fact, Intuit plowed almost $50 million into gumming up the rollout of a free filing option for people earning below a certain income level, and last year it dropped its most ever to stymie the IRS’s Direct File.

But if that weren’t enough, critics slam Intuit every year for changing TurboTax’s consumer-facing platform to make taxes at least appear more challenging. Here are five ways the company succeeded in making filing taxes even more difficult for users in 2024.

#1: “Relentless” upselling

Just today, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a regular detractor of Intuit’s, sent the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a letter explaining that her staff futzed around with the 2024 version and discovered it “still appears to be ripping off taxpayers,” this time by harassing users over and over to spend more than they need to.

Warren wrote that her staff mocked up a “simple filing situation” that qualifies for the free IRS Direct File tool. Yet Intuit tried to charge them $133. Moreover, the team got eight full-screen popups along the way warning them that $133 wasn’t getting them TurboTax’s A-game efforts. For that, they’d need to upgrade to Plus (for $29), or Max (for $59), or Deluxe (for $69), or Live Assisted (for $89), or Live Assisted Deluxe (for $139).

#2: Race Mode

This weird flex—a large display showing the elapsed time it takes the user to file—is actually a holdover from 2023. But because TurboTax has last year’s time, that means it can push you to beat your previous filing record. Taxes already suck. What sucks more, though: Feeling pressured to speed through a process where exactitude matters, and making a careless error gets you audited.

#3: Intuit Assist chatbot

What’s 2024 without AI-generating dubious advice in response to your urgent tax quandaries? For this, TurboTax has given users Intuit Assist, summoned by clicking “Help” at the screen’s top right. There, to make your filing “smarter,” it pulls heavily from TurboTax community forums that, odds are, won’t help.

Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler gave it a whirl, so you don’t have to, and found the chatbot “flubbed more than half of the 16 test questions I asked,” usually by offering “wildly irrelevant responses.” He enlisted actual tax pros to brainstorm useful questions. One was which state his daughter should file her taxes in—the state she resides in, or the state she attends college in. Intuit Assist wasn’t sure, but it suggested Fowler try forum pages on “How do I file an extension for my personal state taxes?” and “How do you remove the American opportunity tax credit from turbo tax?” The experience left him with some new questions for Intuit: “If a journalist and a few tax experts can so easily spot holes,” he wondered, how could Intuit miss them? Or worse: “Maybe they just didn’t care.”

#4: Refund tally gone AWOL

That years-old meter that gave a helpful running tally of how much the government owed you or you owed the government? This year, it has disappeared from view. Intuit made it invisible by default until you complete your federal return.

Why? Hard to say, though the move made a number of customers livid. The tracker allowed them to keep TurboTax honest, instead of having their refund appear at the end—ta-da!—like a rabbit out of a magic hat. Seasoned TurboTax users have tales of the refund moving vigorously in the wrong direction, either lower or higher, after completing a step. The play-by-play tally allowed them to notice funny movements on the fly and consider answering that question differently.

Supposedly, the tracker can be flipped on from a right-side drop-down menu. But a number of users complained of having trouble activating it on the community forum. “I’m happy to know I’m not the only one but this is beyond frustrating,” one person wrote. “I have been using TurboTax for 20 years and this is extremely disorienting.”

#5: Price

In the run-up to this tax season, Intuit ran ads claiming its services were “free” to users, but the FTC shut that down fast as “deceptive advertising.” Most of Intuit’s customers will pay a hefty sum, compared to using rival online services; and for 2024, TurboTax’s fees are the highest they’ve ever been. The full service starts at $129. State filing costs more, and Intuit makes it clear that prices are subject to change at any time without notice.