TurboTax Vs. H&R Block: Here’s the Other Class War Sparked by Taxes

Who knew tax preparation could get so controversial? As tax season kicks into gear, archrivals H&R Block and Intuit, maker of TurboTax software, are squabbling like reality show housewives.

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Who knew tax preparation could get so controversial? As tax season kicks into gear, archrivals H&R Block and Intuit, maker of TurboTax software, are squabbling like reality show housewives. In the process, they’ve kicked off a contentious social media conversation around our usually unspoken ideas about work, education, and social status.

The bickering began when Intuit rolled out commercials in which customers who use an unnamed tax service (pretty obviously intended to be H&R Block) are horrified to find their tax preparer working as a shopgirl in a clothing store in one of the ads. In another ad, a customer’s tax guy is fixing a clogged pipe under their kitchen sink. “I thought you were a tax expert,” the homeowner says to Bob the plumber as his wife raises her eyebrows and darts out of the room, presumably to go double-check the tax paperwork. (The commercials are here and here.)

H&R Block filed a lawsuit to try to block the commercials. It was unsuccessful; last week, a federal district court judge rejected the request. Company CEO Bill Cobb accused Intuit of “taking cheap shots at hardworking plumbers and retail sales clerks, not to mention millions of Americans holding down two jobs.” Then he took the battle to Twitter.

The company launched a campaign, #iamhrblock, featuring snapshots of its tax preparers holding up signs — many of which say what they do for a living outside of tax season. It’s an eclectic list: air-traffic controller, owner of a power-washing company, Zumba instructor. There are also some whose full-time professions hew a little more closely to our idea of “tax pro” and that go beyond the scope of Intuit’s on-screen portrayals: CPAs, people with MBAs, business and accounting degrees, and Registered Tax Return Preparers.

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Regular people, some of them customers of one service or the other, started to weigh in on Facebook and Twitter as well. Some posted criticisms of the TurboTax ads, charging Intuit with being classist or misleading in its portrayal of H&R Block’s workforce. Then came the backlash to the backlash, with others posting messages of derision, questioning just how competent or professional someone can be at tax preparation if they spend most of the year driving a truck, cutting hair, or fixing clogged pipes.

Now, it’s not exactly a big secret that tax prep companies hire a slew of seasonal workers in preparation for the annual filing rush, so why did these commercials touch such a nerve?

It may be because we’re not just debating the merits of having a person versus a software program help you with your taxes. We’re confronting some prejudices about the competence and intelligence levels of people who work certain jobs.

“It plays into a set of biases that are very powerful,” says Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. We like to think of ourselves as a classless society. Everyone is created equal and all the rest. Most of us would be reluctant to voice the belief out loud that we’re somehow better than people who hold blue-collar or lower-paying jobs. Yet an ad that asks if we want a plumber doing our taxes triggers what Carnevale says are unspoken, sometimes unconscious biases many Americans have about class.

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“There’s a tendency for us to suppose that those of us who have sort of can-do jobs, an electrician or a plumber or works in retail or so on, do so because they have less talent, and the evidence doesn’t show that,” he says. But to a large degree (pardon the pun), education has become a proxy for class in our society. “There’s a class distinction in the labor market. Anything you do with a bachelor’s degree is a profession, anything you do with a high school degree is an occupation.”

Given the skyrocketing cost of a college education, it’s likely some people are upset that someone who goes through short-term training and doesn’t take out six-figure loans can earn the title of tax “expert,” especially if that expert spends much of the year employed in a blue-collar field.

And as more people go to college, it increasingly becomes a socioeconomic class marker, in part because it’s become harder to find a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. “Degree inflation” has increased as changes in education and funding over the past generation have prioritized four-year degrees over vocational and technical programs. “There’s a long tradition in the U.S. of a deep respect for labor,” Carnevale says. “That has shifted as we moved out of a high wage blue-collar economy.”

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Mike Rowe, host and job guinea pig of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs series, made a similar observation in a talk he gave at a 2008 conference. He describes how he showed up for one shoot on a sheep ranch for what we’ll just euphemistically call “animal husbandry.” (The link to his speech is here, but this is a vague description of the job in question for a reason: Like most of Rowe’s show, there is an ick factor, so don’t watch if you’re squeamish.) He says he thought the worker was going about the job the wrong way, based on research he did before the shoot — only to find out his “right” way was totally wrong.

“We’ve declared war on work as a society,” he admits. He takes to task all the factors that reinforce the stereotypes that turn the labor market into a hierarchy, from Hollywood portrayals of blue-collar characters as overweight dopes to commercials that insinuate all of us should be more like the dot-com whiz kid who cashes out to live a life of leisure. “The collective effect of all of that has been this marginalization of lots and lots of jobs,” Rowe says.

Do TurboTax’s new commercials contribute to this?

38 comments
cherylwalden
cherylwalden

I have been using turbotax discount from from the last 4 years without any hassle and it is really easy and absolutely not complicated. I just love turbo tax.

davidzollo
davidzollo

With turbotax I'm getting $800 and paying $130 for services and fess, in H&R bock I'm gettin $79 and paying $163!!!!!!!!!!!! WTFFF?? WHY??!


jamesdagreatest
jamesdagreatest

All I can say is HR overcharges and doesn't do great work. Went there when I was younger. I will likely stick to Turbo Tax unless I ever get to the point where I want an accountant.

DNA
DNA

It has nothing to do with "class" but "skill" and "expertise"

  I wouldn't want a doctor or an architect or a game programmer doing my taxes, either.

jenewine
jenewine

Hello, I have a couple of things to say  about the commercial. Its funny and humerus. Both parties have the best of both. Each office, has at least 1 person who may be year round and the rest may be seasonal. Who all take refreshers. My thing is, HnR block didn't like it, they should have took a low blow shot at them back. Its like getting mad cause someone  said your teeth look like you've been chewing on rocks. Its funny, its catchy, and people are going to listen.  But that's enough. about childish behavior. Here are some facts.  TURBOTAX  sucked this year. Almost no one is receiving their taxes yet. Yes me and a few friends included. And im a Home/Business buyer. TurboTax left us misled this year, and till today, they dont have valid reason. But dont let me bore you with my story, HnR Block, you want a breakthrough on commercial, Here you are, here is the link.    Post this on national TV http://blog.turbotax.intuit.com/2013/01/30/what-is-the-current-irs-status-on-processing-returns/#comments

JenniferMangoldBohannon
JenniferMangoldBohannon

Okay, I think the Turbo Tax commercials are in complete distaste.  I'm sure their "tax pros" are also seasonal with other jobs as most of america has two jobs at this point in time.  I might be biased as I work for HRB as a CSP (front desk).  I prepare my own return through their software and it's very user friendly and while I've never used Turbo Tax, I have used other online tax prep companies in the past.....I understand and know how to look up the tax codes though and know exactly how to do my return with a pencil and paper if I had to.  

My dad has worked for HRB as a tax pro for going on 7 years and a couple years ago he took the IRS test to become an EA - the highest attainable level for tax prep.  His "day" job is our family's upholstery shop which he has owned and operated for several decades.  Along with doing the upholstery work, he also did the bookkeeping and taxes for the corporation and he taught me when I became old enough to work.  This is where I learned how to use the IRS pubs and look up the tables and what not. Now on the surface, sure, my dad is blue collar.......but he has years and years of accounting expertise that doesn't come with a 4-year college degree straight out of college that these apparant "Americans" according to this article are disregarding because of being in a trade job - don't judge a book by its cover.  

Every year HRB makes their tax pros take refresher courses, introduces new tax codes, and furthering tax prep courses......these people couldn't be more qualified to do your taxes and they earn every penny charged (there is a lot of liability factored into some of those forms if people don't give accurate or all information which is what you are paying for.......you are getting a guarantee after all.....if you do it on your own and mess up, then you have to pay for your error).  HRB has made every possible outlet available to people in tax prep - online for DIYers, in person for those less confident or who don't want to mess with the paperwork, mobile for the younger generation - we've even fixed Turbo Tax returns through the 2nd look program where people were given wrong information from the Turbo Tax "Helpers".  Like I said, call me biased, but I know who I put my trust in because I have seen first hand what goes into the prepping of the tax pros.      

jdrch
jdrch

I did my taxes on my own in college and for the 1st 2 years of work, then switched to H&R Block after having a return rejected and getting an enormous tax bill instead of a refund. After going with H&R Block for several years, I used TurboTax for the 1st time this year and will probably use them from here on out for several reasons:

1) It's a lot less expensive

2) The process is far more transparent. For the 1st time ever, I was actually able to make sense of the logic behind the return

3) It's faster

4) You get electronic copies of your return, unlike H&R Block's paper copies* which can easily be lost/damaged


*Seriously? How hard is it to email clients PDFs of their returns?

penny9793
penny9793

i would use hr block before i use turbo tax ever again.they have some of the worse people working for them i have ever come a cross. I filed my taxes with their company and they are in limbo and no one in their company can figure out why and their say  just redo the taxes and try again. I have never and this kind of trouble with hr block. When I spoke with a person in the corp office they said they can hold on to the taxes for half a month before sending them in prime time season. That is not customer service!



dunce
dunce

Turbo Tax has no offices but HR Block has many offices. If you have any questions on turbo tax, you can not talk to a real person. Some people need and appreciate the personal touch, this campaign is aimed at them, though they do not offer any similar service In effect they are claiming that the "nothing" they offer is better than the people at HR Block offices.

ClydeBarrow
ClydeBarrow

The last time that I used HR Block was in 2002. For years my returns were negliable and I never understood why until I began using Turbo Tax. I taught myself how to do my taxes and my returns doubled the first year in 2003 and this showed me that HR was cheating me out of money. HR has not incentive to make sure you're getting everything owed. From my perspective they will only do the minimal work required and they'll assume you'll never ask any more questions or figure out that they're making mistakes. Now I have a new tax preparer and I receive a minimum $5k every year. HR will never do my tax filing ever again.

RobinMiller
RobinMiller

For many years my mechanical engineer father moonlighted for H & R Block during tax time. He considered tax math simple and had no trouble understanding Block's manuals and IRS instructions.  

Today, with software, tax prep is basically an unskilled job unless your return is crazy-complicated. I've used TurboTax online for some years. Even with several types of freelance income and a separate business return for me and one for my wife in addition to our joint 1040, it has never taken me much more than an hour. 

Now I'm retired, with less and fewer kinds of income and expenses. I'll probably use TaxAct. It costs a lot less than TT and looks like it will do everything I need.





JOhnnyo
JOhnnyo

I went to H&R Block because I was told I would get my refund faster.  I was in a bind financially as most of us are.  My tax "expert" didn't know how to use his computer.  I literally had to walk him through his own program, while watching him type with one finger. In the end, my refund took 3 weeks longer than if I had filed myself.  I had overpaid my state taxes by a substantial amount (on purpose).  It turns out Block wouldn't file my state return until my federal was accepted.  Of course they didn't tell me that before signing off on the fees.  I had to find out on my own. So it cost me $180 to have my return take 3 weeks longer than if I did them myself.  And ultimately I did do them myself in the sense that I had to show the man how to do his own job.   I was told that they understood my frustration, but some states won't accept a return until the federal is accepted. So even though my state does, they weren't set up to process it for me.  No $180 refund from them.  Just, "we understand your frustration."  Point being, I have absolutely no sympathy for these clowns.

NaveedXVO
NaveedXVO

It's not very hard to do taxes for most people. Frankly if you can't do it yourself you're not in a position to judge much of anything in life with any confidence. HandR block has a great business model sucking money off the ignorant.

KellyAnn
KellyAnn

I am a corporate tax accountant.  I took the H&R Block class a few years ago to brush up on individual tax issues.  I would not have allowed any of the other students in the class to do a simple return.  I watched people fail open book quizzes each week and still expect to be hired.  Most of them had no background in tax or accounting or basic math skills and simply wanted some part time work.  H&R Block probably weeds out most of these but I worry about some of the other "fly by night" tax preparation places.  I drove past a payday lender yesterday that had a large sign proclaiming they offered tax services.  The fact that anyone can offer their services as a tax preparer has led to an enormous amount of fraud and is the reason the IRS is trying to force all paid tax preparers to register and pass a basic competency exam.

ravenrdr
ravenrdr

I have filed my taxes with Turbo Tax for about 10 years now.  I cannot do the same this year, because Turbo Tax does not make a product compatible with my Mac OS (10.5.8).    I bought it in 2007.  Beware of Turbo Tax unless you constantly modify your computer to update your OS.  For those not interested in shelling out the money for a new computer, l would avoid Turbo Tax--especially since this limitation is not generally known---although it is in the fine print on the Turbo Tax box.    Be careful.

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

Here's my story:  I originally took the basic income tax course that H & R Block offered because I couldn't afford college and couldn't pay rent on a part-time retail wage.  During the course, I discovered that I was actually pretty good at preparing taxes and I enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would enjoy something so math-heavy.

After my first tax season, I was finally able to sign up for financial aid and started attending community college and working towards completing a Bachelor's degree in Accounting.  Outside of tax season, I attend college full-time and work an assortment of odd jobs (mostly minimum wage retail) to make ends meet.  This is in addition to taking all of the continuing education classes required by H&R Block to maintain my certification and passing the IRS exams; this often includes taking extra classes well into tax season because of congress not making up their minds on changes in the tax code.  I take winter quarter off from school so I can work at H&R Block full-time, to gain more experience and to start making payments on my student loans before the interest starts to accrue.

After two seasons at H&R Block, I already have more hands-on experience in accounting and tax preparation than most university business graduates.  By the time I actually complete my degree, I'll already be well-established in my field, which is more than most graduates can say.

I've reviewed numerous returns completed on Turbo Tax or by CPAs that were completely messed up or even blatantly illegal.  In the case of Turbo Tax, most of its users are the very same blue-collar and minimum wage workers that their ads claim are not knowledgable enough to do taxes, and most of those users don't have any training or experience in taxes whatsoever.  I've seen returns done by CPAs that were so badly done, the client ended up paying thousands to the IRS that they never should've had to!  So, clearly, having a degree or using Turbo Tax is no guarantee of competency.  At least we're not afraid to explain to a client that we'd like to take some extra time to research a tricky tax situation and make sure it is handled right; we don't charge for the actual appointment, only for the exact forms that are filed.

It's a sad truth that many of us have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet during the year.  Turbo Tax's ads are  insulting to any American who finds themselves in that situation, which sadly is a lot of us these days.  Please, keep this all in mind and take their claims with a large grain of salt.

spamfile2009
spamfile2009

Next time you need stitches, go to a seamstress. Or if you need roof repair, go to your doctor.  Or legal advise, go to a day care center. There are enough posers and phonies in Washington DC to last a lifetime.  Here is something unique H&R Block. Own up to the issue and develop a marketing strategy to counteract the critics. Quit apologizing, making excuses or sidestepping the issue and support those preparers if you believe in them and your business strategy/tactics.

WilliamMeyers
WilliamMeyers

ok, I will go out on a limb here first and mention that Turbo-tax says they have people standing by to help you out with any questions should you run into a rough patch while doing your taxes with their software.  Just for grins and giggles, how many of those people you can't even see do you think are full time tax pros?  So if anyone at all is paying attention, I am sure at least a few thousand other people have also realized this fact.  Also, there are several other "during the season" tax prep places out there doing business, Jackson-Hewitt, and Liberty just to start with, so are they suing Turbo-tax also.  

As for the ad itself, while true to a point, it was also meant to be comical I am sure, and it was, but when they asked the question about who you wanted doing your taxes, I simply would want someone who knows what they are doing at the moment, and I really do not care one hoot what they do as their other job, as long as they are competent at that one too.  And for my money, the hands, on in the dirt, blue collar worker, is usually not only the smartest one in the room, but the most dedicated to getting the job right.  These are the people who make the world work, when the planners and theory folks miss something, and decide they have to go back to the drawing board.  these are the people who stop in the middle of the plan, pull out the drawing board in their heads, and fix it to make it work right there on the spot.  

H&R Block needs to get a thicker skin in my opinion, as do a whole lot of other people and groups in today's world.  It was a funny ad, so have a good laugh and get on with your work.  If I had been going to get my taxes done with H&R, this ad would not have changed my mind, but then I am one of those plumber, electrician, auto mechanic, carpenter, roofer, truck driver types, so I do my own taxes, just like I have for the last 51 years.

spamfile2009
spamfile2009

We have a Community Organizer moonlighting as President of the United States. Hollywood celeb's pretending to be intelligent.  And Time magazine pretending to be a source of news. All gold medal failures.  Go to a real tax professional.

hivemaster
hivemaster

There is nothing at all wrong with a plumber or an auto mechanic, but I don't think it's elitist or unreasonable not to want that person to do my taxes.  I don't want my accountant working on my car, either.