If you recognize the name Intuit, you’re probably one of the 40 million people who filed returns last year using its TurboTax software. Facing competitors ranging from storefront tax preparers to free (for now) preparation through a credit report website, the company’s CEO is optimistic about the future.
Brad Smith told Bloomberg News in an interview that he’s surprised at the extent to which taxpayers are procrastinating this year. Why is that happening?
There are a few hypotheses out there, and one of the most plausible is that since the refunds for people receiving some tax credits are delayed due to identity theft concerns, those customers don’t have an incentive to rush to file in January or February.
Free tax preparation, especially with Intuit, isn’t free: It’s an opportunity for the companies that offer it to upsell you on state tax return preparation or on extra services like credit monitoring, assurance of protection in case you’re audited, or live help from a real accountant.
The future of tax preparation, Smith says, is for software to do all of the work for you, and for the preparation to happen in a mobile app. Over 5 million people used TurboTax last year on a mobile device, and that will probably increase.
“We’re going to get you the maximum return on little to no effort,” Smith says, explaining that the company’s goal is to use machine learning to analyze the tens of millions of returns that it sees every year and minimize how many questions customers actually have to answer. Filing could take as little as five seconds.
Or we could cut TurboTax and its competitors out of the transaction entirely, with the government sending us a pre-filled return like in pretty much every other industrialized country. Intuit makes over a billion dollars in profit every year from its tax software, and has spent millions lobbying against such a sensible idea.