Will a Turbo Tax bug spoil your tax return?
Turbo Tax has serious bugs lurking under the covers of this year’s tax software and these bugs are going to get you, unless you give yourself more time to do your taxes and are extra vigilant!
As far as US income tax preparation software is concerned, Turbo Tax is and has been for at least 20 years, since it was acquired by Intuit, the king. This year, tens of millions of people will use a product from the Turbo Tax line of products to prepare and file their personal income taxes without giving it a second thought.
After using Turbo Tax reliably for years to do their taxes, many of these filers trust Turbo Tax unequivocally. And, as they have done for so many years before, they will wait until their calendar flashes April 15th to rush through their Turbo Tax "Step-by-step" interview process and quickly click the "File" button mere moments before the clock strikes midnight.
Of course, in most cases, this approach carries significant risks. These risks are further amplified by the complexity of your particular tax situation. If you run a business, operate a farm or have rental real estate, you simply can’t afford this modus operandi. Not ever, but especially not this year and here is why…
Most people have income sources that change little from year to year and so love the fact that Turbo Tax can transfer information from your prior year’s return. By asking you explicitly if you had income this year from each of the sources from last year, Turbo Tax can save you a lot of time. And not just income sources themselves, but the expenses that go with them. Lots of people must rely heavily on this feature, but what if it didn’t work quite right?
This year, as in many years past, not long before the tax deadline, I cozied up to my computer one evening with a fresh copy of Turbo Tax Home and Business, ready to dive in. I started by installing and updating the software and then imported my last year’s return. All went as expected, until I got to the business home office section.
Here came the first surprise - the software spat out an amount for my home office deduction without first asking all the usual questions. I jumped into the form interface, entered some expenses on Form C and jumped back to the interview. Now, when I reran the home office interview section, those questions got asked. A curious quirk, thought I and moved on to the Farm section.
Somewhere between rental, Schedule E and farm income, Schedule F, I ran into the second, no more pleasant surprise. A couple more manual data entries directly in the forms mode put me back in the saddle again. At this point, needless to say, I am starting to think, “cowboy, this is ridiculous!” But it is after 2 AM in Mile Hi Colorado and I am getting duly tired…
The next day the saga continues with farm rentals, Form 4835. I try the same fix with manual form data entry, but the interview still fails to ask the right questions. I try tweaking with the forms again and again – no luck. I remember Einstein and the Clintons. No, I am not going mad!
Let’s see, what else can I try here? Oh, how about a call to Turbo Tax tech support? Yes, that’s it! I get on the phone and am quickly connected to the sweetest grandmotherly Elizabeth. I describe the problem to her in detail, then suggest that she take a look at it herself on my computer.
She logs on, experiences my hell remotely and verifies the problem. She gets it, she really does, but she can’t do anything about it. So, she gets Tier 2 support via chat. No, she can’t transfer me to talk to them directly. Now we have a Tier 2 lady looking at Elizabeth’s screen, as Elizabeth is looking at mine; they are chatting and we are talking.
Almost three hours into this exercise Elizabeth and I have tried and done virtually everything: we became virtual friends, traded recipes for deviled eggs, I enlightened her on the virtues of making aspic out of roosters and she shared a funny story or two. We also found a way to make Turbo Tax crash reliably and every time simply by requesting that it send a diagnostic file to support. But the one thing we still have not been able to accomplish is to convince the Tier 2 lady that Turbo Tax is buggy.
At this point I really need to take a short break and return some other phone calls – my phone has been ringing off the hook all morning long! But if we hang up, I can’t get my fully indoctrinated and totally on my side Elizabeth back. There is no way that I want to go through another three hours of this, so I ask her to call me back in 40 minutes. She gets the call back approved by her supervisor. What a relief, or is it?..
Fast forward five hours and five more ingenious attempts at getting tech support from various Turbo Tax agents backed by their Tier 2 and Tier 3 chatters. By now, I am at the end of my ropes. I try one more desperate attempt to get through Turbo Tax defense line.
This time I get Connie, a friendly young lady. I literally beg her to bypass the second and third lines of defense, aka Tier 2 and Tier 3 chatterers and patch me directly through to engineering. She can’t. I talk to her supervisor and he assures me that Connie will get to the bottom of this and she will not give up until this bug gets posted to the CSI team. That's right, the “CSI team” and I didn’t even know that there was a crime to solve here!
Another hour or two on the phone and another clueless once removed Tier 3 support chatterer later and I have Connie fully convinced that there really is a serious bug in the Turbo Tax software! Mind you, Connie is convinced, but not the Tier 3 support agent, who continues to scream “user error” in his background chats to her.
By now, it is getting really late, the kids are vying for my attention and Connie, after telling me that she will do whatever it takes to take care of this bug, lets me go. She doesn’t yet know what she will have to do and how she will do it, but she will figure it out and get it done – nice! In any case, she will get back to me as soon as she has progress to report.
Of course, to get her there I first had to explain the difference between the four tax forms involved and the types of income that must be reported on each of them. I also had to set up and have her log into two computers: one to demonstrate exactly what doesn’t happen in Turbo Tax Home and Business this year and another to show her what is suppose to happen and did happen in the last year’s version of the same software.
But the important thing is that Connie really understood how important this bug really is, she took matters into her own hands and she did something about it. The next day, on Saturday, she called to let me know that she replicated the problem and got the bug into the queue to be worked. She was not sure when engineering would fix it, but she will keep me posted.
But why was this buggy software, which is so important to so many people, not only released this way, but is continuing to be shipped with this critical bug still, barely ten days before the filing deadline? And what if I was not so persistent to report it, or lucky enough to run into Connie, who pushed for a solution outside of established company procedures?
There are good technical and economic reasons why shipping software with bugs both known and yet undiscovered is the industry norm these days. Time to market considerations are inconsistent with 100% QA test vector coverage for systems of any complexity. Companies must rely on feedback from the field to debug, improve and evolve their products. They must also prefilter this feedback in order not to get overwhelmed by it.
What is worrisome, however, is a financial software company shipping products with critical bugs, especially when such bugs are in stable features from prior versions. And worrisome quickly morphs into inexcusable when such a company grows so incredibly confident of its code base’s integrity that is sets up processes designed to block customer service inputs instead of prefiltering them.
I will now leave you with this final and most important of questions: if you are racing against the clock with a looming tax deadline rapidly approaching, will you at least notice that an undetected bug lurking beneath Turbo Tax’s surface is making your return fail even the most basic sanity checks?!
P.S. Please keep in mind that the above are Farmer Jake’s opinions and not accounting advice.