Free File Fillable Forms: Not Directly With IRS

Am I the only holdout who refuses to use online tax software or e-file through a third party?

I refuse to give my tax data to anyone except the IRS. Putting my tax data online with a third party is out of the question. I use tax software but only software I install on my own computer. After I’m done, I print the forms and send them by mail, because if I e-file from the software, my data will go to the software vendor. That’s not acceptable.

The IRS promotes Free File Fillable Forms as an alternative to pencil-and-paper forms. If you think you are filing directly with the IRS when you e-file with Free File Fillable Forms, you would be wrong, although the IRS does its best not to mention that fact. By hosting a massive set of FAQs, the IRS creates the impression that Free File Fillable Forms is a service owned and operated by the IRS itself.

It’s not true.

You get the clue when you click on the “Choose Fillable Forms” button on that Free File Fillable Forms page. The next page says (bold by me):

Please note that by clicking on this link, you will leave the IRS web site and enter a privately owned web site created, operated and maintained by a private business.

The information that this private business collects and maintains as a result of your visit to its web site may differ from the information that the IRS collects and maintains. (please see the IRS web site privacy and security notice for privacy protections IRS provides to web site visitors).

By linking to this private business, the IRS is not endorsing its products, services, or privacy or security policies. We recommend you review the business’s information collection policy or terms and conditions to fully understand what information is collected by this private business.

Because it’s a generic redirect notice, I’m not sure if everyone pays that much attention or really understands what’s going on.

So who is this private business that the IRS sends people to? If you click on the privacy statement or terms of service links at the bottom of the Free File Fillable Forms landing page, you will see the service is operated by Free File Alliance, LLC.

Who is Free File Alliance, LLC then? Its “About Us” page says it is “a coalition of 19 industry-leading tax software companies.” It doesn’t say which exact 19 companies. I assume the major ones Intuit, H&R Block, and the like are members.

When you use Free File Fillable Forms, where are you storing your tax data? Not at the IRS. When you e-file with Free File Fillable Forms, who’s transmitting your tax data? Not from you directly to the IRS. Possibly through one of the 19 member companies by round-robin random assignment?

Free File Fillable Forms fails my test as a product that deals directly with the IRS. I’m sticking to desktop software and mailed forms.

This year I bought H&R Block At Home Deluxe Federal + State + eFile from Amazon for $21.99. It will do both federal and state returns. It’s almost half-price as the more expensive TurboTax Federal + e-File + State ($39.99) and it costs the same as the price leader TaxACT Ultimate Bundle ($21.95).

I tested all three tax software two years ago. They all produced the same results.

If the IRS wants me to file my return electronically, it’d better offer a direct interface. It’s easy. It only has to publish a data format and tell the software vendors to produce an output file in that format. I would then upload the file directly to the IRS. That’s how Canada does it. UK’s tax collection agency HMRC operates a free, direct-to-taxpayer online filing service. If UK and Canada can do it, so can the IRS.

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Comments

  1. Janet says

    I refuse to to file electronically also. I just don’t quite trust them. My friends think I am a little odd, but I want it on paper and to send it in the mail. I’m glad to hear someone else feels the same.

  2. Andy says

    Interesting. The tax data does have a lot of personal info in it, but I wonder which part of it concerns you most? I have been using TurboTax for the past few years and it hasn’t come across to me as something particularly “dangerous”.

    Actually, when I re-financed my mortgage recently, it also asked me to sign a form giving them permission to access my tax info. I bet they would have saved a copy of that somewhere in their file too.

  3. Don says

    I’m a Linux user, so commercial off the shelf programs aren’t for me (or at least require an extra layer of emulation). I’ve printed the PDF forms and filled them out with a pen every year, though this year I will use the fillable forms and then print them out.

    In truth, I pay less taxes because I take the trouble. I read the directions, I understand the deductions and credits, and because of that I can plan ahead to make the best use of them. I certainly do a lot better than when I hired someone to do my taxes (because they missed easy stuff and I had to pay them on top of it). I’ve already essentially laid out how my 2011 taxes will go and know how much of my retirement savings will be pre-tax and after tax.

  4. Harry Sit says

    @Andy – Which part concerns me? Everything. Name, address, telephone number, Social Security number, dependents’ names and Social Security numbers, income, where I have my bank accounts and brokerage accounts.

    When you refinance your mortgage, you save thousands of dollars. If you don’t sign that form 4506-T, they won’t refinance your loan. You only give them tax info for 2 years; it’s not a blanket permission forever. You don’t refinance your mortgage every year. How much do you have to gain when you e-file? Getting your refund a few days sooner? How much is that worth in interest? A dollar or two if even that. Save postage? How much is that? Five dollars? The benefits are simply too small.

  5. eda says

    Mail – Post Office – Big envelope with IRS Return printed all over it – I wonder what could be in it.? It passes through hand after hand of 20 something year old -and less than honest people. postal workers! It only takes one. don’t care if 99.9% are not that way. Machines sort, dumped in bags, and then sent on its way in a delivery truck. involve truckers, delivery personnel now. All the way to the IRS, building. Still is not in the hands of the little person that enters all that data. IRS data mainframe? I don’t think so. Hosted by a third party, stored by a subcontractor. And you’re worried about a single transaction via a third party electronically?

  6. Anie says

    I did my own taxes for years, when I lived in Oregon. Upon moving to California I tried in VAIN DESPERATION!!! to understand what they wanted and I just couldn’t do it. It was awful and I thought long and hard before I gave in (can you say headstrong??). But I did~I use Turbo Tax and I’ll never go back. They can walk you through everything but they also allow you to skip around to what you know you need. I’ve been loving this for years and have no qualms about the security. Our stuff (info) is out there already, and probably in less capable hands than TT.

  7. Eric says

    I also don’t like the fact that some third party could be storing my personal data, particularly the social security number.

    However, this year, the IRS stopped mailing the forms and envelopes I’d taken for granted. I don’t want to pay a minimum of $30 to file online via software like TurboTax or buy special software just to file. So aside from the glaring privacy issue, Free File Fillable Forms seemed the best, most convenient option.

    I understand your wariness, but if you use a credit card, or have medical insurance, you have just as much chance of being hit by an identity thief targeting those companies as you would an agency that handles taxes.

    I couldn’t find any documentation on FFFF’s site that indicates they store the data anywhere but via your saved account –which I imagine you can update and re-save with bogus information after your e-file transmission has been completed and accepted.

  8. DAVID says

    There are two Free File Fillable Forms Websites with very similar webpage address. One is
    freefilefillableforms.org and the other is freefilefillableforms.com. The dot org webpage comes from the Irs link,the dot com webpage appears indentical but could it be an imposter webpage to get peoples user id and password info after they e-file with the dot org page then accidentally attempt to log back on into the dot com webpage and input their user id and password ?The imposter webpage could then input that info into the dot org webpage and have the person’s entire return info,social security number, savings/checking account info etc.Do you know if the dot org and dot com webpages are one and the same?

  9. Eliana says

    Great article, but now am confused should i e-file or not. I dont like the iidea but I dont want to go to the hassel of doing the paper work and mailling just to get 200 i wont get much back.

  10. Donnaf Fekete says

    I’ve been appalled at the personal financial information required to submit financial aid information to colleges so that we can even estimate our financial aid package. For certain colleges (like Harvard and Northwestern, for exmple), the information must be submitted to a third party (IDOC). This is operated by the College Board (yes, the same ones with the near monopoly on AP and SAT exams). They require parent’s SSNs, copies of W2s, all 1099s, your signed 1040, etc. It seems grossly intrusive, especially if all you “qualify” for is a rather small Federal Student Loan, with interest. How do they get away with this, when the university I work for does not allow us to store any student SSNs on our computers, grade books, etc.?

  11. Julie Thomasson says

    I too install tax software on my computer, but you are giving the Free Fillable Forms a bad rap. You can fill out the form and DOWNLOAD it to your computer–no need to save it on their website. I’ve used it to do my daughter’s taxes and just print it off of my printer and mail it in to the IRS.

  12. John Butterfield says

    Do not e-file through the freefileableforms.org website The website and any companies related to it are highly, highly suspect.

    I tried the sit yesterday because the government was leaning on me to e-file and because I am used to the forms. The government rejected my attempt to e-file. Now I had already filled out the paper forms and checked them for correctness. For one thing, the IRS claimed that the total amount withheld on a W-2 and a 1099R did not agree with my return. I added it up again and I was correct, but when I went back to the website the W-2 and 1099R I had filled out as “copies” of the forms that had been sent to me were no longer there. Of course things didn’t add up if the web forms I had filled out were not all e-filed.

    If they “lost” some of my paperwork this time, why should I think they will not lose it next time. It would be the definition of insanity if I used the website again and expected a different result.

    In addition, as I filled out the 1040 I found it difficult to NOT inadvertently do something that would cause some link or some schedule to pop up. But when I got to line 40, itimized deductions or standard deduction, there was no Schedule A in sight. As a result I tried to e-file without the Schedule A. I figured that if there was no way to submit a Schedule A, the IRS didn’t want it. Afterall, there are workforms they don’t ask for and when you e-file you are not even signing anything. The lack of a Schedule A was another reason why it was rejected. I should add that I had removed one of the unwanted schedules that had popped up during my filling out the return and I verified that it was not listed before I tried to e-file. But when I went back to the website after my e-file was rejected, there it was. Just the forms I wanted to be there weren’t there.

    When I filled out the webforms to make “copies” of the W2 and 1099R that had been sent to me, the software program converted every entry to the nearest dollar. That upset me and I have now decided that that is dishonest. (Although the rejection e-mail I got said the IRS would accept it as long as the difference is $5 or less.) I think these companies are dishonest.

    Now this is the scary part. The return has my name and social security number and my wife’s name and social security number, and as part of the e-file process I also gave our birth dates. I normally would never, never do that; but I guess I was caught up in the moment and just wanted to get things done. Remember, I have come to think that the companies behind the website are dishonest.

    When I came to this site, I was hoping to find a company name and address behind the freefilefillablefors.org website for a letter to the Better Business Bureau and to keep on file to report to the police in case we ever have an “identity theft” problem. I will be sending quite the letter to the IRS. If the IRS will give me the names of companies behind that website, I will post the information here.

    I urge people not to e-file through that website and if any has additional information on that website, please post it here.

    John F. Butterfield

  13. Lynda says

    The freefilefillableforms.com website is for people with over $58,000 and the .org site is for people with less than $58,000.

    All the bad experiences seem to be using the .org site. Has anyone used the .com site all the way through to e-filing?

  14. Lee says

    I have a new complaint. I did exactly what the IRS told me to do. I was directed to the .org site. “Do the math” didn’t work, nor could I fill in the numbers. I got self-select PINS for my spouse & me (filing jointly). I provided the info required when I checked to see if it had been filed, the answer was “no”. The private company (another problem) asked for verification & I provided it. The return still did not file.

    Stupid me. I next went to the IRS official support site and laid out my problem. I answered their questions completely (I do print blank forms and I do keep records) and provided a step-by-step for what I had done/tried to do.

    IRS Answer: Nothing. IRS does respond, if you consider an auto-answer responsive. Every time they write, they announce a “new” heading to include in future emails. However, the heading is ALWAYS the same.

    I am mailing the Free Fillable Form that I was able to print out. I will pen in the
    “blank” boxes. I will provide very negative, disgusted answers to their official satisfaction survey. This is probably useless because I doubt that any human (or at least a semi-intelligent one) is involved in any stage of the “new” process.

    Your experiences with these issues would be appreciated. Thanks!

  15. tax payer says

    I read an article a few years ago that said the IRS planned to offer free tax software and e-file for everyone. Software made by the IRS not 3rd parties. However, Congress would not allow it because it would hurt sales at private sector Tax Software businesses.That is why we have the compromise we have today. It seems there should be some more press and outrage at this?

  16. Harry Sit says

    @tax payer – You are correct. Software companies lobby Congress pressuring them not to create a direct filing service.

  17. oldnsenile says

    - tax payer & TFB – To me, the Free File Alliance smacks of collusion and violation of antitrust laws. I use Pennsylvania’s state tax e-file, but still use paper returns for the IRS because of the third-party involvement. The Alliance letter claims that the federal government would become a “competitor with the private sector”, which displays their profit (and not an altruistic) motive. It’s like arguing for a more complex tax law, to increase costs for financial consultants (and software), instead of simplification and its benefits to the taxpayers.

  18. Lee says

    I posted an comment unfavorable to FFF on April 4 (comment #14 above). I would like to wait until I have the time to try their alleged satisfaction survey. I will do this soon and file a more specific report. What I have learned: People, we do not complain enough. We want change but are then too lazy to find a good website (like this one). We give up on the errant agency too easily. We do not see the value in persistence (it creates a record). We do not encourage each other to continue to find out of there **may** be an unethical relationship between the agency and private firms.With IRS, I now believe that there is. In short, I have found that complaints (if received in volume) usually bring correction.

    I do agree that we disclose personal info frequently. I am not concerned about my groceries (even good chains will give this info to insurers and others). Looking at proposed “budget solutions”, I am glad that I pay for my cigarettes in cash. Always. My doctor, who is quick to prescribe Chantix to others, has told me that this is not the time for me to stop smoking.

    What I am concerned about is the utter irresponsibility of the IRS. We pay taxes to support them and this stupid system. For what? I urge you to complain about each and every one of your concerns at their official website. Am I the only person whose complaints have been answered by either auto-generated responses–or worse, a request for more info. They claim this is needed to address my own problem. I gave this info. The IRS response? “We have determined your problem to be : [nothing]“.
    The preceding sentence was not a typo.

    Finally (for today): Do not excuse the IRS by using this as an example of “what-can-you-expect-from-government-agencies”. I had never had anything but great experiences with the US Postal Service. But then I found important items meant for my neighbors in my mailbox. Twice. I did not get the return receipt I was promised for certified mail. I used the agency website and easily found the tracking system, I easily confirmed that it had been delivered. While I was on the site, I found a place to praise their usual service but note that I could speak for 2 recent mistakes.Less than 24 hours laters later I came home to hear a detailed voicemail message. They had already begun investigating who had carried mail on my route lately. They had already begun to retrain **all**carriers in their jurisdiction to address the issues I had raisedl They were grateful that I had brought these complaints to their attention. They were thankful for my praise. They would (that day!) send me a photocopy of the recipient’s signature. The caller gave her own first and last name and the phone number to use if I did not understand her message. Thanks!!. A plus for this agency. F minus for the IRS.

  19. dawn says

    I help my friends out alot, as a former office manager of a tax office they trust my support. I have successfully assisted people who used the .org site for several years. It is free and exactly like the IRS forms. You must save your work regularly and click on “do the math” frequently. It is helpful to do a final view of each line by line and save each form. I have not had any problems.

    This year, the .com site came up. I am not sure about it and would appreciate any feedback. The company names and addresses for each are not the same but there is contact information. I cannot find any definitive proof anyone has had any specific legitimate problem from either site {that could NOT be explained as operator error). All the reject codes I have seen have been legit and easily fixable.

    If you have a different example, please email me at bucsphan at gmail dot com. Thanks.

  20. foosion says

    I have no reason to believe an IRS operated site would be any safer or more reliable than the FFF site, if for no other reason than an IRS site would likely be designed and operated by the same sort of people as the ones that did FFF.

    Have people read the privacy statement?

    There are laws on the subject. Google: Section 7216 of the Internal Revenue Code

    FFF may not be perfect, but neither are the IRS or the US mail. Why do you think FFF or e-filing is worse?

    That being said, I used FFF to file an extension. The email I got back from them (a receipt and a statement that the IRS accepted) was written as if I filed a return rather than an extension, which is a bit disconcerting.

  21. Eric says

    What I’ve learned about the .COM vs. .ORG site difference comes from a Yahoo question. Someone who goes by the handle of “Wolf Harper” had the good mind to do some research behind the IP addresses and DNS records of both sites, and here’s what he came up with:

    216.178.176.223 freefilefillableforms.org
    216.178.176.135 hrblock.com
    216.178.176.135 hrblock.net
    216.178.176.135 hrblock.org
    216.178.176.135 hrblockbank.com
    216.178.176.135 hrblockcareer.com
    216.178.176.141 rapidrefund.com
    216.178.176.143 taxcut.com

    So, FreeFileFillableforms.ORG is owned by H&R Block.

    208.240.243.199 freefilefillableforms.com
    208.240.240.23 intuitinc.com
    208.240.240.23 quickbooks.com
    208.240.240.54 quickenturbotax.com
    208.240.241.77 quickbooks.net
    208.240.242.132 payroll.com
    208.240.243.197 turbotax.org

    And FreeFileFillableForms.COM is owned by Intuit, the makers of Turbotax.

    Two competitors, running similar sites.

  22. Eric says

    Furthermore, if you go to the IRS.gov URL then refresh the page and click first link that reads, “Start your 2010 taxes using Free File Fillable Forms,” then go back and refresh and click the button again, you should see that the IRS site is ALTERNATING between giving you the .COM link or the .ORG link.

    So, it appears the IRS has an agreement with both H&R Block and Intuit such that they each get about an equal share of the referrals coming from the IRS site.

  23. Ze Fenske says

    I used the form website to print out and mail in forms. It miscalculated my math!

    I found this out from an IRS letter to me….

    I also don’t like the idea of having my personal information stored in anybody’s site unless I know they have a very good incentive to properly secure it.

    How much do you think your identity is worth? I think the EFF has something where you can calculate it. It will be a lot more than you think if you use electronic stuff lots. Mine was something like $5,000.00.

    Also, HR Block has politics I don’t agree with. I don’t wish to be supporting them directly or indirectly.

    I think a letter to Congressional representatives is in order. They are the people who can force a change.

  24. Will says

    The question for me would be, HOW is it sent to them? They most likely have to encrypt it. Mathematically, you can decrypt anything, but the amount of time, CPU cycles and electricity it would take is impractical. At my most recent job, I had to use people’s SSNs constantly to search our databases. How many of them do I still remember? None. What did I want to do with them? Nothing. I would want to protect people’s private data like diamonds or gold, and hope they would extend me the same courtesy.

  25. Jorge says

    From personal experience I have used the Free Fillable Forms website to E-File for the past 3 years. No issues, no problems with the IRS, no miscalculations. I used to work as a tax preparer for a friends firm a couple of years ago, so all I need is the forms and a way to conveniently and PROMPTLY E-FILE. Everyone is entitled with their opinion and their privacy (paranoia) levels. The website has been of great service to me, I usually get my refund deposited to my account within 10 days. For all of you concerned with the sacredness of your information, I recommend you get rid of your computer, your smart phone, your wifi and pretty much anything else that transmits electronically, your precious secrets might be at risk! Cheers !

  26. frustrated says

    I’ve had really bad experiences with ffff.org, I do taxes for my family of the three ive filed on ffff.org, only one was accepted after much trial. The other one said the social didnt match, even though ive redone it and checked it and the other says the agi doesnt match even though I rechecked it and everything seems to be there. I DONT LIKE FFFF.org. Needless to say I’m trying to find a better program where I can e-file, just the forms I need like I did last year on paper. I’ve bought and tried turbotax out of blind frustration and its VERY friendly. I mean if you dont know what your doing then it would be good for u. If you do then it will be a waste of time because it takes you through step by step asking you if u were married and if you bought a home w/in the last year etc. You can actually try it for free I believe on turbotax.com. I think I’m going to just send it by mail.

  27. Thomas says

    My problem likely stemmed from my own procrastination, but it would have been nice (basic customer service in the original welcome email at a minimum) had the FFF.com website stated that my info would only be saved thru XX-XX-XXXX date. I completed my 2010 1040 with ALL supporting schedules (and there were many because I’m self-employed) and saved my work all along the entire time that I was using the site (over the course of about 2-3 days). I went back into the site to retrieve my info so that I could either print or save all of the forms in .pdf to my computer, but my info was GONE. Now I have to go and redo my entire taxes because I cannot access them any longer……..my bad!!

    Anyway, that might be a good thing for those of you who are worried about your info getting out. If I can’t access my own data using my login and password, then nobody else should be able to either……

  28. Sam says

    The point is right. My question is why IRS don’t want to make their own fillable form. It is not a difficult job.Is it a business issue or IRS want to create more kick back?

  29. James says

    I tried using the free e-file and it ended up telling me my taxes OWED was 50 percent of my total income.a huge glitch with their “this value is figured automatically”. I also noticed many other glitches/miswrites in the forms themselves. When I did it with pen and paper and it ended up being like $45.00 . That one big glitch is why I will NEVER file on some third party e-file.

  30. Douglass Hollar says

    Form 6521 (AMT calc) line 7, requires the figure from line 10 of Form 1040. It doesn’t just retrieve it from 1040. Form 6251 flags the figure I entered for being too high. It wasn’t too high on 1040. I find no explanation for this in the “instructions.”

    Can Someone help?

  31. Casey says

    E-Filed in 2011 for the first time because I needed to prove I’d submitted a federal return, and quickly. Went to the IRS.gov site and was redirected to freefilefillableforms.org; I don’t remember having too much trouble but I didn’t see a way to print a record of the content of my return right away; had to wait a couple days to get an email confirmation that the submission had been accepted by the IRS and that confirmation directed me to print/download a copy of my return. Didn’t do that as the immediacy had passed figured I’d get to it in a couple days and it slipped off my radar, figuring that “it’s on this website, it’ll be there forever and I can get it next year if I need it.”

    Now it’s 2012, tax time is breathing down my neck, it looks like H&R Block let their cert expire and gave up the org site and now the IRS only directs people to the freefilefillableforms.COM website. I didn’t realize this was a different site as it looks almost identical to the screenshots I made from last year. After my attempts to logon failed (and I know I was using the correct username password) I tried creating a new one matching the old one which it allowed. It was then that I looked closely and noticed the ORG/COM differences.

    If I want a record of my full return it looks like I now have to file a 4506 and pay the IRS $57.

    I think I’ll be contacting the BBB as this is a deliberately misleading business practice; the IRS to complain about their user-unfriendly practice of allowing 3rd parties to disappear with my record. I’ll be contacting my representatives in congress to let them know that the US tax code and the way the IRS treats its customers is unacceptable. I have no problem doing my taxes _but_ even with my rather vanilla income and finances and whatnot that it takes too long to complete; I can’t imagine if I actually had investment income or heavens forbid mining depletion to account for – why is that even ON the 1040??!

  32. Ron says

    Casey, fyi:
    You have lots of valid things to say, but the account thing is expected.
    From the IRS:

    “How do I create an account?
    You must create a new account, even if you created a Free File Fillable Forms account in a previous year. Select Free File Fillable Forms from the IRS.gov Free File page and follow the prompts.”

  33. MAUREEN says

    I heard that the irs has promised to NEVER offer free on-line filing at their website in exchange for the big companies (turbo, h&r, etc) doing some free electronic filing every year for qualifying individuals. the money always talks. and now the irs and many states force tax preparers to efile returns if they prepare more than 10 returns/year. in order to e-file, a preparer who files 40 to 50 returns a year has to purchase a software program for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to prepare those returns.

    for the big companies with their huge volume of poorly done, over-priced returns this is no big deal. $5000 for a program used for 200,000 returns is cheap. but for someone who only does 300 returns a year it gets spendy and has to be passed on to the clients.

    so in essence they are, as usual, driving out the small businesses in return for big box stores.

    • Tim Messer says

      Check out Drake Tax Software. They have an option to pay a fixed fee per e-filed return or to buy unlimited e-filing. The per return option costs something like $15-20 per return. If you are charging what you should charge $50 minimum you still have a pretty good margin if you are doing it all yourself. For doing my own taxes I personally use H&R Block. I do my immediate family’s taxes and they split the $60 cost between them.

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