Consumers Speak: H&R Block’s Free Offer, Only $5.95

Dan F. writes in with this chat log from H&R Block’s online support system.

Here is the IM exchange I just had with H&R Block after attempting to use the “free” 1040 return service they pitched to me via e-mail. I own to some early crankiness but keep in mind their “fast” online response had kept me waiting a lot longer than it would have taken to do my taxes the old fashioned way:

Welcome to H&R Block online technical support. Please wait while we find a technical support agent to assist you.

All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.

If you think that’s bad, wait until you see what’s after the jump.

An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
The next available Agent will be with you in a moment.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
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All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
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You have been connected to Leonardo G.

DANIEL F: Why are you trying to charge me $5.95 when the words “FREE PREPARATION AND RETURN” have been plastered over every link I’ve followed to get here? Here is what you sent me in your email: “Come back to TaxCut and get FREE federal tax prep with eFile, no qualifications – just use the links in this email!” Then, once I get through the whole process, it tells me I have “selected” to pay $5.95. Why? I never “selected” that. This is dishonest.

Leonardo G: Hello DANIEL, welcome to H & R Block’s Live Technical Support Chat! How can we assist you today?

DANIEL F: See above.

DANIEL F: The word FREE literally appears ten times in your email

Leonardo G: Yes Daniel, and I am currently reviewing it, one moment please?

Leonardo G: Have you been charged already Daniel?

DANIEL F: Nope, I stopped when it asked me how I “wanted” to pay

Leonardo G: Sorry to keep you waiting Daniel.

Leonardo G: I am currently processing the information so please bear with me.

Leonardo G: Daniel did you create a new account with the link that was provided to you?

DANIEL F: No I used the one I used last year

DANIEL F: That’s why you had my email address in the first place

Leonardo G: Thank you for that information.

Leonardo G: Sorry for the confusion, please be informed that in order to avail the promotional program, you have to create a new account with the link that was provided to you.

DANIEL F: OK, Leonardo, why would it send me a promotional offer to an EXISTING ACCOUNT, with my user name highlighted, to get me to sign up for a NEW account? That makes no sense at all. Nowhere does it say that I have to sign up for a new account

DANIEL F: It says, “just use the links in this email” which I did, where it led me to sign into my already existing account.

Leonardo G: I am referring to the link that was sent to you by e-mail Daniel.

DANIEL F: Right, and I am telling you that the promotional offer in the email referred to my existing account. Why else would it say, “Get started now” with a link to my account sign-in?

Leonardo G: Okay I am checking the matter right now, one moment please?

DANIEL F: Sure.

Leonardo G: Thank you for patiently waiting Daniel.

Leonardo G: If you wouldn’t mind Daniel, may I ask for the link that was e-mailed to you? Or if it is possible for you to have that e-mailed posted here?

DANIEL F: The email referred to this link: http://www.hrblock.com/taxes/blahblahblah

Leonardo G: Thank you for that Daniel. I will be looking for the link right now to check about the matter, one moment please?

Leonardo G: Thank you for all the information Daniel.

Leonardo G: Well Daniel the reason why your username is indicated within the e-mail that you received is for verification purposes only.

DANIEL F: Why would it tell me to “login to get started today” instead of telling me to create a new account, Leonardo?

DANIEL F: Why would H&R Block send a promotional offer requiring the setup of a new account to their existing customers?

DANIEL F: Hello?

Leonardo G: Sorry to keep you waiting.

Leonardo G: Inasmuch as I would like to help you with that, I have already exhausted my resources and did not find the correct resolution for that, I do apologize.

Comments

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  1. Kevin Meyers says:

    H&R Block sucks a lot. They make money charging hidden fees and usurious interest rates on so-called “Rapid Refund” schemes, and are generally a dishonest company, preying on people who aren’t smart enough to realize they’re getting screwed. Use TurboTax.

  2. dukerayburn says:

    Daniel…when you deactivate me…will I dream?

  3. Josh Cohen says:

    I’m not at all surprised that they’ve reached the end of the decision tree with Daniel F. I feel that way sometimes using live chat with my web provider. It’s like they’re using the old Dr Sbaitso interface.

  4. ValkRaider says:

    I had a similarly maddening online session with them last February. It was regarding the Mac version.

    For years the Mac version of the TaxCut software was more expensive than the PC version. Which is OK I guess, except the fact that the “engine” that makes the software run is the only thing that is custom to the Mac. What makes the software different each year are the tax rules – which are the same for both platforms. So since the “engine” to run the program was done for several years, and the tax rules had to be made for the PC version anyway – the Mac version shouldn’t cost extra.

    But oh well. I would just pay the extra $20 and live with it.

    But last year the “final” version of the Mac software wasn’t even released until like late February – while I needed to do my taxes ASAP. (Like any good American, I had already spent my refund).

    When I contacted them they basically said – too bad!

    Then this year they discontinued the Mac version all together.

    HR Block seems to not want business, but sadly they still get it because they are everywhere and huge.

  5. tomdobb says:

    My grandmother was thrown out of an H&R Block a few years ago for asking loudly if the H in “H&R” stood for “hurry up and get screwed.”

    Makes me proud.

  6. Paul D says:

    dukerayburn hit the nail on the head. That was clearly an “AI” chatbot.

    I have a very good friend who works for H&R Block during tax season. For what it’s worth, he’s a pretty honest and ethical guy and probably wouldn’t work there if they were doing anything shady. (In fact, I’m going in there tomorrow to have him do my taxes.) Two years ago I did my taxes myself. Last year, as part of H&R Block’s policy of looking over your previous years’ return (for free) for mistakes or omissions, he found a mistake I’d made to the tune of $1100…in my favor!

    The fees for rapid return mentioned by Kevin Meyers are clearly denoted and made known to each customer. They are not hidden, and no one is forcing customers to do anything. And I don’t feel they’re any more or less egregious than any fees the average bank would charge for miscellaneous services. Perhaps Mr. Meyers has had a different experience, and I would very much like to read about it if this is the case. But I don’t personally think the fees & such are over the top, predatory, or dishonest.

    Tax software is no less a ripoff than any other method. Every vendor that I can think of is constantly screwing its users with built-in obsolescence and charging them extra for individual State Tax plugins and whatnot. I prefer to deal with a human being who can catch things I wouldn’t even think of.

    And I would have cut off that online chat the second I caught a whiff of its true nature. You never get anywhere talking to a machine.

  7. Paul D says:

    Also, FWIW, my friend speaks fluent Spanish and is the go-to guy for low-income Latino families and migrant workers that come there for their taxes.

    He even asked some native Spanish-speakers to make sure he knew exactly the proper phrasing and words to use to explain some of the more complicated aspects of tax preparation to his customers.

    He’s always telling me stories of the awful things these folks have been led to believe by other tax preparers (mostly of the private-practice CPA fly-by-night variety). You wanna talk about people getting screwed? A lot of these folks are really getting taken advantage of.

  8. RowdyRoddyPiper says:

    I was expecting Leonardo G to say something to the following effect:

    “What do you say we take a relaxed attitude towards work and watch the baseball game? The nye Mets are my favorite squadron.”

  9. Ben Popken says:

    I think I have the secret. This isn’t an offer direct from H&R Block. It’s from an affiliate marketer who gest paid for every person they cajole into signing up for a new account.

  10. Kevin Meyers says:

    Paul D, I was basing my comments on the description of H&R Block’s predatory practices as described in David Shipler’s book “Working Poor: Invisible in America.” A summary of his findings on H&R Block can be found here and pasted below:

    “Each form the taxpayer needed carried a fee: $41 for a 1040, $10 for an EIC, $1 for each W-2, and so on. Electronic filing cost another $25. So a simple return with two W-2s filed electronically would cost $78. But it didn’t stop there. Block has a smorgasbord of services for people who lived in the edge. If you had no bank account, your refund could be loaded onto an ATM card that charged $2 per withdrawal. Or a temporary account could be opened into which the IRS payment could be deposited for a fee of $24.95. If you were enticed by Block’s offer of a “rapid refund” and wanted a check in a day or two, you paid H&R Block an additional $50 to $90, depending on the amount you were getting. The fee on 14th street could be as much as $50 on a $200 refund up to $90 for $2000 or more.”

    That adds up to an annual rate of interest that could run as high as 410 percent on $2000 and 2,281 percent on $200, Shipler calculated, depending on the speed with which the government paid. Ordered by a court to stopping describing the loan program a “rapid refund,” H&R Block renamed the service a “refund anticipation loan.” Some 4.8 million taxpayers received such loans in 2000. “Poverty is like a bleeding wound,” writes Shipler. “It weakens the defenses. It lowers resistance. It attracts predators.”

    I have no firsthand experience with H&R Block, as I’ve always done my taxes myself.

  11. Paul D says:

    Kevin,

    Very interesting. I’ll have to check out that book.

    I spoke again to my H&R Block buddy. I asked him candidly about concerns with their “rapid refund” and other policies. First, he told me that this particular office was an independent franchise, with the ability to discontinue certain policies if the local market didn’t call for them (or if the franchisee didn’t want to offer them). Initially, the franchisee (his boss) didn’t like the terms of the “rapid refund” stuff and stopped offering it. She found it “questionably ethical.”

    What happened?

    Customers went apeshit. Complaints were non-stop. “Whaddya MEAN you don’t offer Rapid Refund?” “I ain’t never comin’ here again!” And so on.

    When they reinstated the policy, rules were put into place so that each level of refund service was offered in a “tiered” manner. Meaning that preparers were instructed to start with the normal return and refund, then work their way up to the big daddy “refund anticipation loan” if the customer expressed interest in “something faster.”

    Predatory or not, it appears that in this case they were just giving the customer what was (loudly) asked for.

    He did my taxes today. My wife and I are very happy with the results. Again, he caught things that I (and I suspect most software packages) would never have thought of and probably increased my refund by about 20% over doing it myself.

  12. OkiMike says:

    He was definitely an alien life form. No human responds every time with “Thank you for all the information, Daniel.”

    Creepy.