It's Not Just TurboTax. H&R Block Tricks Taxpayers Into Paying More for Taxes Too, FTC Says

H&R Block tried to upsell me. But I still had a good experience filing with the tax software this year.

Danni Santana Editor
Danni Santana has spent seven years as an editor and business journalist covering industries like sports, retail, restaurants, and now personal finance. Most recently he worked as a retail editor at Business Insider. He is a graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. His biggest loves outside of the newsroom include, running, cooking, playing video games and collecting sneakers.
Danni Santana
5 min read
Old-school alarm clock with post-it reading tax time next to a laptop.
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H&R Block is in the Federal Trade Commission's crosshairs, for similar reasons its archrival TurboTax has been in recent years. 

On Feb. 23, the FTC filed a complaint against H&R Block alleging the company deceptively marketed its tax-filing software as free to customers who don't qualify for its Free Online tier. And even if they do qualify to file their taxes for free, H&R Block pushes customers to upgrade to paid tax-filing products they don't need, the complaint says. 

H&R Block also makes it difficult to downgrade from a paid tier to its free tier, according to the FTC. If you start your return with H&R Block Deluxe (which currently costs $35 for a federal return and $37 per state return) and realize you can file for free, you have to call H&R Block to downgrade or contact a customer service agent via live chat. There isn't a button you can just click online, unlike TurboTax. All of your previously entered tax information may be deleted. 

"H&R Block designed its online products to present an obstacle course of tedious challenges to consumers, pressuring them into overpaying for its products," said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release.

Levine added that any other tax-filing software providers using "coercive techniques that harm consumers can expect to hear from the FTC" in the future. 

For its part, H&R Block's Chief Legal Officer Dara Redler told CNET the company stands behind its unmatched tax expertise and fair and transparent pricing. 

"H&R Block has offered a free DIY filing option for more than 20 years to help millions of Americans file their taxes," Redler said in an emailed statement. "The multitude of resources we offer to all filers via educational resources, free tools, and calculators, and The Tax Institute demonstrates our commitment to making filing your taxes more accessible and more transparent for all."

My experience filing taxes with H&R Block this year

I've been a TurboTax loyalist since 2019, but filed my taxes with H&R Block for the first time earlier this year. My tax situation was covered under H&R Block Free online. I did not qualify for TurboTax's Free Edition this year. 

Reports of TurboTax's deceptive marketing practices also influenced my decision. Even last year, I flirted with the idea of filing my taxes with FreeTaxUSA, because it was a cheaper alternative that was not under the FTC's microscope. But I could not forgo TurboTax's ease of use for DIY filers. FreeTaxUSA, despite its compelling price, felt like too much of a technological downgrade.

With H&R Block, I found a free edition that offered a very similar user experience to TurboTax. The free help and resources were extensive and the software allowed you to upload many tax forms, which limited the amount of information I had to enter manually. 

Like TurboTax, H&R Block will attempt to upsell you to a paid tier or push you to a service you don't need to file your return. I was asked to upgrade several times over the tax-filing process. 

H&R Block offering upgrade for $34.00
H&R Block/Screenshot by CNET

H&R Block prompted me to upgrade to a paid tier to keep my returns stored online for up to six years, but I preferred to stick with Free Online and download my returns to my laptop for safe keeping.

H&R Block offers me a chance to use a tax pro
H&R Block/Screenshot by CNET

Later, I was offered Tax Identity Shield and Free Audit Support, but I decided to pass. 

H&R Block offers upgrade for tax Identity and audit defense
H&R Block/Screenshot by CNET

And finally, I was offered the chance to have a Tax Pro review my return, which I also declined. 

H&R Block's attempts to upgrade you can make you feel anxious about whether you completed your taxes correctly. But it's important to remember that if you know you qualify for free going in, you shouldn't have to pay anything if you don't want to. 

Most online tax software now is also built to catch mistakes for you. And thanks to 100% tax accuracy guarantees offered by companies like H&R Block, you'll get reimbursed for IRS penalties and interest charged to you in the event online software makes an unexpected error on your tax return.

How to avoid upselling and file for free

Most online tax software companies will try to upsell on a higher tier or push you towards an add-on service that can help you file your taxes with more confidence. But If you don't want to be bombarded with offers, there are a few flat rate and even free options for you to consider this year. None of the options below offer the ease of use TurboTax and H&R Block provide, however.

  • Jackson Hewitt offers a flat $25 dollar rate for filing a federal tax return and unlimited state returns online with the service.
  • FreeTaxUSA offers one free federal return and charges a flat rate of $15 per state return. It also offers two add-on services for live chat and a tax review, but neither are required to file a completed return.
  • Cash App Taxes lets you file one federal tax return and one state return for free, no matter your tax situation. But you will need to download its mobile app to get started.
  • IRS Free File has its limitations -- such as income caps and what IRS partners allow state filings -- but generally speaking, you can file your taxes for free if you made under $79,000 last year.

If you prefer to use TurboTax, H&R Block or another tax service because you believe you qualify to file for free, we recommend you start with the free tier. Upgrading tiers is much easier on these services than downgrading. You may have to start your return all over and at the very least you'll have to Google how to downgrade because the option isn't that easy to find. 

Should you be asked to upgrade, double-check that you're covered as part of the company's free tier. You may not be if you added a form that excludes you from free filing. Keep in mind that no two free tiers are the same in the wild world of DIY online tax filing. 

In some cases, the company can update what forms and schedules it accepts as part of its free tier at its discretion. At the bottom of H&R Block's list of supported free forms, it says the list is "subject to change." This means you could qualify for a free basic return at one point in the year and not later. Always be sure to read the fine print and if you have any questions, reach out to a tax professional.