Skip to main content


H&R Block ‘Data Wiping’ and Upgrade Policies Harm Taxpayers, FTC Says

The FTC says H&R Block deceives customers into paying more and makes downgrading unnecessarily difficult.

By Katelyn Washington, Kiplinger Consumer News Service (TNS)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint against tax preparation company H&R Block, accusing the tax services provider of unfair and deceptive business practices. The allegations include “coercing” customers into paying more than necessary, running deceptive “free filing” ads, and unfair downgrade policies. 

“Companies using coercive techniques that harm consumers can expect to hear from the FTC,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a release. According to Levine, H&R Block is one such company. 

H&R Block designed its products to “present an obstacle course of tedious challenges to consumers, pressuring them into overpaying,” Levine added.

H&R Block downgrade policy 

According to the FTC, consumers who try to downgrade to a less expensive H&R Block product are unnecessarily forced to spend time and effort contacting customer service. When customers finally succeed with the downgrade, they are penalized by having their data wiped, which forces them to start over.

The FTC complaint states the data-wiping practice “requires consumers to choose between sacrificing their progress” and “switching to a less expensive product.” 

For this reason, the FTC contends that some consumers may choose to stick with the more expensive product, even when it’s not needed. Some of these customers are misled into choosing the more expensive product to begin with.

H&R Block free tax filing 

Deceptive “file for free” advertisements are also part of the FTC complaint. The agency says H&R Block has been running deceptive ads for years. Although the company made some changes to its advertising last tax season, what the FTC describes as vague statements and hard-to-find information continued to mislead consumers into thinking they could file for free when they didn’t qualify. 

According to the complaint, “Only after consumers are partway through preparing their tax returns does H&R Block disclose that many consumers do not qualify to use Free Online, and must upgrade and pay.” 

Essentially, some of these taxpayers may choose to upgrade simply because they already spent a significant amount of time and effort preparing their return. However, these consumers might not have chosen H&R Block if they knew they couldn’t file for free in the first place.

H&R Block vs. TurboTax 

Intuit’s TurboTax is a popular alternative to H&R Block’s online tax preparation products, but both companies have been the focus of FTC complaints. A recent FTC order found that TurboTax free filing ads misled customers into thinking they were eligible to file for free. Intuit is appealing the FTC’s findings.

That order followed a $141 million Intuit TurboTax settlement, last year, which stemmed from allegations of consumers paying for products after being tricked into believing they were filing for free. 

Free tax filing

TurboTax and H&R Block aren’t the only options for free tax filing. Through IRS Free File, eligible taxpayers can file their federal tax returns free of charge.

  • Taxpayers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $79,000 or less for 2023 qualify to file using guided tax preparation software with one of the IRS’ partners.
  • Free state tax preparation and filing is available to some taxpayers who qualify to file through an IRS partner.
  • There is no income limit to use another IRS option, Free Fillable forms. However, no guidance or state preparation is available with that system.

The IRS also recently launched a free Direct File pilot this tax season, which allows eligible taxpayers to file their returns directly with the agency. Direct File has been limited to select taxpayers in 12 states, but the IRS is starting to expand access to the program.


All contents copyright 2024 The Kiplinger Washington Editors Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.