Updated December 8 at 9 p.m. with Inuit comment.
Revisions incorporated into Intuit's TurboTax 2008 have led to a bit of a tax revolt by reviewers on Amazon.com.
The tax preparation program, which is a top seller at the online retailer, has garnered an Amazon customer rating of one and a half stars out of five. As of Sunday afternoon, an overwhelming 82 reviewers (out of 90) gave the program the minimum one star, compared with four reviewers who gave it the full five-star rating.
However, it's not the features nor functionality with which the majority of reviewers are taking issue. Many reviewers were upset that Intuit increased the retail price of the software from $44.95 for the 2007 edition to $59.95 for the 2008 edition--a 33 percent price bump.
Most frustrating for reviewers--many of whom identified themselves as longtime TurboTax users--were the revised fees for the number of returns prepared. This year, Intuit began charging users an additional $9.95 for each additional return they prepare, regardless of whether the return is printed or filed electronically.
An Amazon reviewer who identified himself as Mark Adler said the new fee would increase the cost to him dramatically:
Not only did the price go up (though now including federal e-file "at no extra charge"--yeah, right), but the number of returns you can do was reduced by a factor of five!
Last year's and previous years' software licenses allowed you to do up to five tax returns with the software. Now you can only do one, even if you're just printing returns! You have to pay $10 more for every additional return you print! I do three household returns every year. So for me, the price goes up to $80 retail.
One reviewer identified as "Bill B," who said he has been using TurboTax since 1997 and has always thought of it as "a great program for doing taxes," called the new pricing "unjustifiable and unsubstantiated":
This is a dramatic change from past practice, when the software license allowed PRINTING up to five returns at no additional cost. It is important to note that printing and mailing additional returns comes at no cost to Intuit. And forcing everyone to pay for "free" e-filing through the product price increase is a scam.
While Intuit representatives did not immediately return a request for comment, a few Amazon reviewers did come to the defense of the software company.
A reviewer going by the handle p89jjy717 implored buyers to "read the fine print":
I think all the people who are outraged by the increased price for TurboTax and the $9.95 extra charge for each additional tax return (printed or e-filed) might not have read the product description carefully...I cannot remember what an e-filing cost last year, but I believe it was between $15 and $20. So, if an extra return costs $9.95, but the e-filing is free, there would indeed be a savings. But you have to use e-filing, rather than mailing, to realize the savings.
Another user suggested a certain irony as an answer to the users' complaints:
You don't think you ripped off Intuit for years, doing your son's, your daughters, your neighbor's, and their grandmother's returns for FREE? Geeze.
It should be noted that many of the reviews were posted by first-timers, and the avalanche of outrage is reminiscent of the well-publicized and coordinated user revolt against the new Electronic Arts' game Spore, which resulted in more than 2,000 one-star ratings being left on the game's Amazon page.
A company spokesperson told me that Inuit is aware of the complaints and is responding to those comments daily on Amazon and other Internet communities.
The company defended the pricing changes as saving most users money.
"Federal e-filing is now included in all TurboTax desktop products," said Intuit spokesperson Julie Miller. "This just makes sense since the majority of TurboTax customers now e-file. With this change, the majority of TurboTax customers will actually save a few dollars when they purchase the product versus last year."
Miller also asserted that users who e-filed one or more returns last year will actually save money this year. For more an in-depth explanation of this position, see comments in this report's TalkBack section made by Bob Meighan, vice president of TurboTax.
But Intuit is no stranger to customer frustration. Many last-minute filers were outraged in 2007, when their attempts to electronically file returns were rejected by overloaded servers. Also affected were TurboTax users' attempts to verify whether a previously filed return had been accepted by the IRS and state tax collectors.
Two years later, the version of TurboTax designed to handle the 2004 tax year was plagued by glitches and installation problems. It also accidentally directed customers to a phone number used by a sex chat operation called Intimate Encounters.