Intuit vows to appeal FTC ruling on free-tax-prep advertising


More than a year ago, the Federal Trade Commission sued Intuit Inc., the maker of TurboTax, for allegedly tricking people into thinking they could file their income taxes for free with the tax-preparation giant.

Now, an administrative judge inside the agency has ruled against Intuit — and the company said in a Friday afternoon SEC filing that it’s going to keep fighting the case, even if that means incurring “significant costs.”

“We expect to appeal this decision to the FTC Commissioners and, if necessary, then to a federal court of appeals. We intend to continue to defend our position on the merits of this case,” the company said in its 10-K filing.

“There is no monetary penalty, and Intuit expects no significant impact to its business,” Intuit spokesman Rick Heineman said in a statement. The company will appeal “this groundless and seemingly predetermined decision by the FTC to rule in its own favor,” he said.

Intuit already reached a $141 million settlement with state attorneys general about the allegations of deceptive advertising. The company says it has been clear and upfront with customers about costs. It did not admit liability in the settlement.

The FTC could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon.

In March 2022, the regulator sued Intuit in federal court to immediately stop commercials that repeated “free” over and over. Intuit pulled some of the advertising and after filing season ended, a San Francisco federal judge said the FTC bid for emergency halts didn’t need to happen under the circumstances.

FTC lawyers also lodged an internal administrative complaint. “Intuit widely disseminated ads on television, on the radio, and online that gave consumers the impression that they could use TurboTax for free, even though two-thirds of taxpayers don’t qualify for Intuit’s free TurboTax offerings,” they wrote in administrative complaint proceedings.

The ongoing legal fight is happening while the broader fight over of free tax preparation is heating up. The Internal Revenue Service is planning to test its own pilot program in the upcoming filing season where taxpayers can file their taxes directly with the IRS instead of through tax preparation companies or individual preparers.

TurboTax and the tax software industry oppose the proposed IRS direct file system. So do Congressional Republicans.

One sticking point in the looming government shutdown is how much money the IRS should be getting in its budget. The House appropriations bill would forbid the IRS from using any money to build the direct file system.

Intuit Inc. INTU, +1.44% shares closed 1.4% higher Friday, at $549.60, and the disclosure didn’t seem to be having much effect on the shares in after-hours trading. Shares are up 41% year to date, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA is up 5% and the S&P 500 SPX is up 17.6%.

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