TurboTax Oregon kicker hassles aren't over
You know that mess that appeared when hundreds of Oregonians discovered that the computer software (such as TurboTax) they used to prepare their state income tax returns mistakenly donated their "kicker" refunds to the state school fund?
It hasn't completely gone away.
A new page has appeared on the state Department of Revenue (DOR) website, entitled "Kicker Donation FAQ." It indicates pretty clearly that some folks who claim they didn't elect to donate their refunds still aren't going to get them back.
Here's the line, right at the top, that's gotten people's backs up:
If the return you submitted shows the kicker box checked, you did make the election, whether you intended to or not. By law, the department cannot issue your kicker to you in that case.And later on, in the Q&A, it says:
3. I filed using 2-D Barcode. Will this apply to me?It sure looks as though the DOR is making a distinction between electronic filers and paper filers who used TurboTax, and that's not going to be a popular decision among the latter group. Especially since some of them definitely could have filed such a return without knowingly ever checking that box. At first, I thought that the revenuers were going to treat e-file and paper TurboTax users equally, but I see now that I was mistaken.
We won’t refund 2-D and other paper returns showing the box checked. A 2-D barcode return is paper so the taxpayer must sign it before sending it to us. If the taxpayer checks the "donate" box and signs it, that confirms that the taxpayer chose to donate their kicker.
We've been through this before in several installments, but let's see if we can get the pertinent details out in one place to make the situation clear. If you use TurboTax to print out a paper return and manually sign it, there are three different screens on which you can check the box -- the interview, the information worksheet, or the on-screen return. And on one of them, the on-screen return, the box is not labeled in any way. A user could easily check that box inadvertently. Ever had your laptop register a click when you were just trying to move the cursor with a touchpad? I know I have, many times. If you did that in TurboTax, and it checked that box, nothing on any of the three screens would alert you to what you just did. There would be an "X" floating alone in space on the on-screen return -- even the word "kicker" does not appear -- and nothing would be checked on either the interview or the information worksheet.
Now granted, when you printed out the paper return and signed it, there would have been a box that said "Donate Kicker," and it would be checked. But should a taxpayer have to read the printed return form all over to confirm that it matches exactly what he or she already saw in the on-screen return? Apparently, the DOR is saying that he or she must. To me, that sounds unfair.
"If the return you submitted shows the kicker box checked, you did make the election, whether you intended to or not." Is that really true? If you checked an unlabeled box with a stray click and didn't notice the error, did you really "make" an "election"? An election is a conscious choice, not one made by mistake.
"If the return you submitted shows the kicker box checked, you did make the election, whether you intended to or not." Isn't that every bit as true of an electronic filer as it is of a paper filer who used software? It's hard for me to see how a taxpayer who filed electronically has a better claim to correcting a mistake than a paper filer who used TurboTax.
"If the taxpayer checks the 'donate' box and signs it, that confirms that the taxpayer chose to donate their kicker." If they inadvertently clicked on an unlabeled box, did the taxpayers "check" the "donate" box? Or did they just check "a" box?
If the DOR is indeed making a distinction between e-filers and paper filers, and if it indeed holds up in court (where it will surely head), I'm sure there will be some taxpayers who will be looking to the deep pockets of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, for a remedy. I can't say that I'd blame them. That on-screen form should have matched exactly what was going to be printed out. Either that, or clicking on that box should have opened a big electronic dialog box seeking the user's confirmation.
On a broader scale, any such distinction would make for some fairly shaky precedent. Is an electronic signature on a tax return somehow less valid and binding than a manual signature? Stay tuned.