Series: The TurboTax Trap How the Tax Prep Industry Makes You Pay ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published. A Senate investigation has found that the IRS has conducted little oversight of its partnership with the for-profit tax prep industry to offer free tax filing, and calls for the agency to increase funding to promote the free option. “It shouldn’t be the case that Americans who are eligible to file their taxes for free end up paying substantial fees each year, but our bipartisan investigation makes clear that is what is happening,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who produced the memo with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. The staff of the bipartisan Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations began a review of the IRS’ Free File program last year following ProPublica’s reporting that TurboTax-maker Intuit and other companies were hiding their free tax filing options from search engines such as Google. Under the Free File program, Intuit, H&R Block and other companies offer free tax prep options to Americans who make under an income threshold. In exchange, the IRS long promised not to create its own free tax filing option that would compete with the companies. Get Our Top Investigations Subscribe to the Big Story newsletter. Last year alone, more than 14 million Americans paid around $1 billion to Intuit and other companies for tax prep that they should have gotten for free. Carper added in his statement that the subcommittee’s report “stresses the importance of Congress providing the IRS with the resources it needs to improve oversight and the Free File program to ensure it better serves eligible Americans as Congress intended.” (The tax filing deadline has been pushed from April 15 to July 15 because of the COVID-19 crisis, and most Americans can prepare and file their taxes for free, if they start at the correct website.) The IRS reported this year that, through April 10, use of the Free File program was up 28% year over year. Despite the increase, under 5% of eligible Americans use the program, with millions paying for tax prep that they could get for free. The Senate investigation pointed to a key reason for this shortfall: “A lack of investment in marketing by the IRS likely led to a lack of consumer awareness that hampered participation in the Free File program.” It has been so many years since the IRS had a dedicated marketing budget for Free File that agency officials couldn’t even recall when the effort was scrapped, the report found. Even Americans who are aware of the Free File program and seek it out on a search engine would be bombarded with c . . . read the full article here.