Free Online Tax Filing–While It Lasts

One thing that many people don’t know this tax season is that, because of an agreement between the Free File Alliance, LLC and the IRS, most Americans are eligible to prepare their taxes online and e-file using the websites of well known tax software companies. “The FFA was founded several years ago by a consortium of software companies who wanted to keep the government out of the tax-software business. At the time, the IRS was thinking of offering its own free tax-preparation software in order to encourage people to file their returns electronically. The IRS has set a goal of receiving 80 percent of all returns electronically by 2007.” How’s the government doing with that goal? Well, they expect 67 million people to file electronically this year.

Besides the speed of receiving one’s return, the other great thing about using tax software to prepare a tax return is the way that they prompt the user along asking question after question in easy to understand language. Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t receive any W-2s last year, but I did receive two 1099-MISCs for work I did as an independent contractor. Yup, you can even use the software to prepare multiple Schedule Cs. Sounds great, and it is. Unless of course, you’re trying to use H & R Block’s offering.

Two years ago, I used Intuit’s online Turbotax software. I don’t remember much about it, except that in the top right hand corner there was an ever-changing number totaling how much I owed or would get back. It was kind of like a fiscal scoreboard in a grudge match between me and Uncle Sam. I used H&R Block’s online software last year after getting a coupon for it. I could have filed for free last year, as well, but I procrastinated and missed the deadline. (Rejoice underpaid America, for this year there is no deadline to file for free.) H&R Block was clumsy, and didn’t have the fiscal scoreboard, but it worked well enough. This year, I decided to use H & R Block again, so as to take advantage of what I thought was the most key feature, importation of last year’s information!

So I gather my various 1099-MISCs, 1099-INTs, 1099-Rs, 1098-Es, and Form 5498s rollover and settle in to compete against Uncle Sam on the hallowed playing fields, walked on by most Americans, with the notable exception of Al Capone. My own private version of March Madness, winner take all, or, if not all, plenty enough coin for several 20 pound bags of Iam’s Adult.

Through two tortureous sessions of self-doubt and misgivings, I slaved away. I quickly discovered two bugs with using H&R Block with Safari on a Mac. 1) After a few minutes, regardless of whether I had been idle or slaving away, a warning would pop up saying I would be automatically logged out in five minutes if I did not click cancel (clicking OK would log me out immediately). I can understand this safeguard if I’ve actually been idle, but it gets annoying when it POPS UP EVERY THIRTY SECONDS. 2) Often H&R Block will ask if I have more questions or want more information. I found out that clicking these links did nothing and I was relegated to trying to understand the different deductions and recaptures as best I could. These links didn’t work at all on a Mac; I tried the site on both Firefox to check (IE wouldn’t even load the software).

Finally, FINALLY, I finished and got ready to file only to find out that H&R Block wanted $49.95 for the priviledge of filing my tax return. I was disconsolate, beyond disappointed, and completely without recourse. It was my fault, though, if the pop ups had worked on a Mac, I wouldn’t have imported last year’s information (and I wouldn’t have been on H&R Block’s site in the first place). Knowing it wouldn’t do any good, but wanting to get some satisfaction from my experience, I decided to ignorantly chat with a site technician from H&R Block. As far as customer service goes, this woman was an accountant, if you know what I mean. For your enjoyment, I’ve included a copy of the chat below. There will be bonus points if you can figure out BB’s quote of the day.

In the end, I used Turbotax off of the website Statetaxfreedom.com, and I suggest all of you do the same. It was much faster (using Firefox), much easier, much prettier, and, best of all, I was able to keep an eye on my fiscal scoreboard. How’d I do? Let’s just say JR, James, Charlie and I will have plenty of Iam’s Adult for the next year.

Welcome to H&R Block. Please wait while we find an agent to assist you…
You are currently at position number 1 in the queue.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
You are currently at position number 1 in the queue.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
You have been connected to BB.
BB: Hello AARON, welcome to H & R Block’s Live Technical Support Chat! How can we assist you today?
AC: Hi,
AC: I went to HR Block through IRS.Gov and thought my federal and state return would be free.
AC: I’m being asked for $49.95.
BB: So, just to make sure that I understand your issue, you are being charged but you want to free file?
AC: Yes
BB: I can help you with that.
BB: To do that:

1. Navigate your browser to http://www.irs.gov
2. Create a new account with new user ID and password from the H&R Block link. Note: If you used this FREE filing Program in previous years, to use it again, you must create a new account and not import from last years return.
3. Complete your taxes.
4. You will receive your federal return for free if you meet the adjusted gross income criteria.
AC: I didn’t realize I needed to use a different account and not import from last year.
BB: Is there anything else we can assist you with today?
AC: I already finished my return.
BB: Unfortunately, if you want to free file, you must follow the steps above.
BB: Is there anything else we can assist you with today?
AC: So should I start over on Turbotax?
BB: I cannot make that decision for you.
BB: Is there anything else we can assist you with today?
AC: I don’t feel like you assited me. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever be using HR Block tax software again. At the beginning of the session I tried to click “What Happens If I Import” and the dialog box never came up.
BB: Is there anything else we can assist you with today?
AC: I used a Mac and tried on Safari and Firefox. HR Block wouldn’t even load on IE.
BB: Below is a list of supported operating systems and browsers for the online products.

Note: Your browser must be set up to accept cookies, Java and JavaScript.

Supported Operating Systems and Browsers

Windows 95:
– Internet Explorer 5 and 5.5
– Netscape 6.2 and 7
– AOL6, 7

Windows 98:
– Internet Explorer 5, 5.5 and 6
– Netscape 6.2 , 7
– AOL6, 7, 8 and 9

Windows ME:
– Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6
– Netscape 6.2 and 7
– AOL6, 7, 8 and 9

Windows NT:
– Internet Explorer 5, 5.5 and 6
– Netscape 6.2 and 7
– AOL5 and 6

Windows 2000:
– Internet Explorer 5.5, 6
– Netscape 6.2 and 7
– AOL6, 7, 8 and 9

Windows XP:
– Internet Explorer 6
– Netscape 6.2 and 7
– AOL6, 7, 8 and 9

MAC OS 9.1:
– Netscape 6.2 and 7
– AOL6, 7, 8 and 9

MAC OS X:
– Internet Explorer 5.01
– Netscape 6.2 and 7
– AOL6, 7, 8 and 9

Minimum Hardware Requirements:
16 MB RAM (32 MB RAM recommended)

Note: The browser must have 128 bit encryption.

To check the encryption for Internet Explorer, follow these steps:

1. Select “Help” from the menu in Internet Explorer.
2. Choose “About Internet Explorer.”
3. Look for the section that reads “Cipher Strength: 128 bit.”

To check the encryption for Netscape Navigator, follow these steps:

1. Select “Help” from the menu and choose “About Navigator (or Communicator).”
2. Look for the section that reads “Contains encryption software from RSA Data Security, Inc”.
3. If the next paragraph says “This version supports U.S. security”, that means you have 128-bit security. If it says you have International security, that means you have 40-bit security.

Pop-Up Killers / Ad Blockers:

Ensure that third party software such as “ad blockers” or “pop-up killers” are disabled. Netscape version 7.01 has built in “ad blockers” or “pop-up killers.” For more information, open the “Help” menu and choose “Help and Support Center” or visit http://help.netscape.com/default.jsp
BB: Is there anything else we can assist you with today?
BB: Thank you for contacting H&R Block, AARON, and we look forward to serving you in the future!

Free Online Tax Filing–While It Lasts

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