Monday, June 28, 2010

I withdraw my suggestion of Free Fillable Forms!

In my last post, I mentioned the new "Free Fillable Forms" option that the IRS Free File program launched last year.

I was thinking that the Free Fillable Forms might be a possible option that technology-averse preparers like Robert Flach could recommend to any of their clients who might want to efile their own returns themselves. A simple easy to use forms-based interface ought to make it easy for Robert's clients to simply transcribe his neat handwritten work into an on-line form and efile it.

I hereby withdraw my suggestion.

In theory, the Free Fillable Forms option seems like an elegant solution available to any taxpayers who want to efile their tax returns simply by typing in the data directly into fields on the standard IRS forms.

However, after some searching on the Internet, I have been unable to find any reports from taxpayers who tried the Free Fillable Forms service and were happy with it.

I found quite a few unhappy campers who reported bad experiences: a computer science grad student here, a Christian Science Monitor financial reporter here, as well as numerous anonymous bloggers and forum participants.

Even the National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson tried it and had trouble using it. According to Forbes Magazine: "Olson herself decided to try out Fillable Forms on her home Apple to file her own 1040 this year; she found herself unable to print or save a copy of her filing."

Nina is smart and knowledgeable, a tax lawyer with decades of experience as a tax professional. If she can't get the program to print or save, something is very wrong!

So who makes this "Free Fillable Forms" product anyway?

All the other Free File products (TurboTax, TaxCut, TaxAct, etc., etc., etc.) proudly tell you the name of the company that is producing it. It makes a lot of sense for the companies to promote their names on their Free File products. It's clear that most companies offering free products hope that some taxpayers will eventually upgrade to their fancier offerings in the future, perhaps when their incomes increase and/or their financial circumstances become more complicated.

But apparently no company wanted to put its name on the "Free Fillable Forms" option. Under the terms of the "Free File Memorandum of Understanding," the Free Fillable Forms option is "unbranded."

An "unbranded product" means that the provider's reputation is not at risk if the product works poorly, as many users have reported.

I am also extremely uncomfortable about the idea of transmitting my very sensitive and confidential private data to a private third party company that won't even tell me its name!

So I'm simply unwilling to even test it myself. And I certainly, in good conscience, would not recommend it to anyone else.

According to the Forbes article, Free Fillable Forms is actually an Intuit product. If that is true, I must say that I am quite disappointed. Intuit also makes TurboTax, which has some annoying glitches, but it has worked reasonably well for me in the past.

A well-executed simple, elegant, and easy to use "Free Fillable Forms" option is a good idea.

And I agree with Nina Olson. The Free Fillable Forms ought to be hosted on secure IRS servers, so taxpayers know that their sensitive and confidential data is going directly to the IRS, not to an unnamed private company.


  1. MOK

    Thanks for doing some more research into this program.

    I see that great minds think alike! Nina, you and I now all want the same thing.


  2. I used the Free File Fillable Forms for my taxes in 2009 and 2010 and plan to use them again this year. I had no problems entering my information or printing the return.

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  4. Using the forms worked very smoothly for me in both 2011 and 2012 (tax years 2010 and 2011). However, BOTH years the irs rejected my returns once they were submitted. The reasons given were because of some vague "electronic form errors". With even the slightest variance from a totally basic, no exceptions, 1040-ez file, i think the forms are not a valid option. In 2010 their errors caused me to miss the filing deadline. Months later, i learned that it was because i had the first time homebuyer credit. And even though the fillable forms provided this credit's worksheet and allowed me to file with it attached, the irs was refusing to accept any efile of a return containing this credit! Would have been nice to know before the tax deadline... In 2012, I had a house fire, and therefore filed a form for "casualty loss". Apparently this also caused the IRS to reject my return, so i ended up scrambling to print and send the forms by mail, barely making the postmark deadline with about 10 minutes to spare. In conclusion, the program I think is very navigable, but until the irs starts accepting the filings made through it, it cannnnnnnnnot be trusted! Next year, I will likely use the forms to fill out my return (the "do the math" button gives solid credibility to your end calculations!), then simply print it and send it by mail without even attempting to efile. It's my impression that the irs wants everyone to efile because hand sorting through 200,000,000 paper returns is a royal PITA. Understandable. But, geeze, irs, work with us here! Until you make your system actually accessible to us, I will continue to be a PIYA and send you as many papers as i possibly can!

  5. Worked great for me! Did a 1040 with Schedule C, E, and SE and had confirmation that the IRS accepted my return within 5 minutes of e-filing.

  6. I happened to come across this website PDFfiller when I was looking for a perfect way to edit PDF files. I would really recommend this, no software to download and install. You can fill the text fields, add a variety of checkmarks, digitally sign the form and even add pictures. After your pdf form is completed, it can be printed, emailed, faxed or saved on your computer. You can even send fillable pdf forms to your customers, employees, vendors and partners. Also you can find the right fillable form anytime using the form search engine that contains more than 10 Million forms.

  7. I've used free fillable forms since 2010 and think it's great!
    The only problem was one year my refund kept being rejected by the IRS. It was an error on my part, and once I found it, the return was accepted. I'm self employed and so have several schedules to attach, and so far have never had any problems.

    1. I used free fileable forms in 2015, printed them and mailed the papers to the IRS. This year (2016), I tried to efile; it was not accepted because the withheld amount didn't equal the forms attached. This was because free fileable didn't have a form for SS1040 where I had withheld. I attempted then to print my return and mail it to them. It would only print the block containing my name and address despite hitting every button. I then tried to print it in the usual manner-no luckl Giving up, I hand printed it and mailed it.
      All in all, it took me days more time to try efiling it on this site. Face it folks, it's a conspiracy between the govt. and the tax preparers to force the self preparers to the for pay CPAs.

  8. Free fillable forms is fantastic. Its not perfect, but I've used it for years and I file itemized deductions work in NY and live in Jersey and it does it all. You can even electronically file. There are safeguards in place and the error messages seem cryptic, but once you read it carefully it is quite intuitive. Saves all your work, so you don't lose anything. I can't, honestly, find any deficiencies with it. Apart from sharing your info, but again you'd be doing this with any online tax software.

  9. I concur with Ed from almost a year ago: fillable forms works well. Is it perfect? No. But if you are comfortable with filling out your own tax returns it is the best deal. Moreover, I keep hoping it gets easier. Why should companies like Intuit/HR etc... make money because we just want a simple option. (Answer: Lobbyists!)

  10. I'm using FFFF for the first time this year. Prior years had obscure features missing that prevented me from using it.

    I'm using it for two reasons;

    1) I'm trying to get away from paper. There's no reason in 2018 that we should be mailing large packets of pulped trees that are just going to be scanned anyway. If they're not going to make the filing API public, why not let us email our returns?

    2) I'm uncomfortable with putting all my information into a big blender that spits out a number, and gives me no understanding of where it came from, or whether it's correct. Doing taxes without the cute interview lets me see the entire process.

    A few annoyances I've already encountered: some of the fields are calculated by "do the math", but also support direct entry. (For example, taxable interest on line 8a). If you've already entered something, it uses that instead of doing the math, and there's no indication that the value is no longer calculated.

    The biggest annoyance is that Tax on Line 44 is not calculated. This was so amazing, I couldn't believe it. The best place where a dumb computer could save us some boring and error-prone calculation, and it doesn't do it. So it's back to the Schedule D Tax Worksheet. I'll believe the politicians who say they've "simplified filing taxes" when they do something about the Schedule D Tax Worksheet.