From an early age, we are taught that “nothing in life is free.” So, naturally, when people started asking about filing their taxes for free online, the hair on the back of our necks stood up. Companies offering these services, Intuit, HR Block, and Credit Karma to name a few, are not charitable institutions. So, what’s the catch?
First, they are legit services. And, no, you don’t have to give them your credit card to get started with the free service. Add on services and/or upgrades are available at an additional cost. The biggest cost, however, is hidden, and it comes in the form of pimping your most vital financial information. I was shocked to learn that the information on your tax return was available to the company’s business partners and affiliates. What information, you ask? Well, all of it, really. Your name, address, date of birth, income, and the last 4 digits of your social security number are all up for grabs.
The privacy statements we reviewed do acknowledge that the user must consent to the dissemination of information. But really, who reads the long disclosures before ordering a service or product that they’re excited to use?Most of us just click “OK” so we can get to the transaction finish line.
You have been warned of blind consent!
Is consent all bad? The information is used to target products and services that may be beneficial to you. Whether the sales information is from the best companies with your best interest at heart is an entirely different story. After all, how does a company pick its partners and affiliates? Well, that’s another story for another day, but in our experience, it usually centers around money, not who can help you (the client) the most.
If you are part of one of the fastest-growing categories in tax preparation and filing (people who prepare their own return using the internet rather than desktop software), our advice is to take the time to read the privacy statement. And, if you do not want your tax return shared with the marketing world, look for the opt-out button before divulging any of your most personal financial data.