When “Free” isn't Free: Hidden Fees in Tax Software

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This article originally appeared on the SimpleTax blog. SimpleTax has joined Wealthsimple to become Wealthsimple Tax. Now you can invest, trade, save, and do your taxes all in one place.

You may have noticed something funny about the way Canadian tax software is marketed. Below are actual, redacted, ads we’ve seen across the web:

Did you know you can start using [our product] online for free? Prepare & File Your Taxes Online With [our product]. Try Now For Free! Start for FREE! NETFILE for free with [our product]!

But starting for free doesn’t always mean finishing for free. Semantics aside, none of these ads are technically wrong—you are, after all, “starting” or “trying” for free—but they certainly don’t tell the whole story. We’ve heard from more than one person who was surprised to find, after spending hours entering her tax information, that she would have to pay to download her return.

Most products use income thresholds or your tax situation to determine the final price you pay. For example, if your total income is less than $20,000 or if you only have a T4, you may be able to prepare your tax return for free; if you have investment income, or your own business, you may have to pay extra. Unfortunately, these thresholds don’t always accurately capture your true financial situation. You may make over $20,000, but you’re also a single parent that is working hard and just scraping by. Or you’re the owner of a new, not yet profitable business.

This is something we wanted to do differently with SimpleTax. That’s why we’re free, not free-ish. You can both start and finish for free. We don’t have any income limits or restrictions. If you love SimpleTax, and you like what we’re doing, you can choose to donate. It’s totally up to you.

Oh, and as for the “NETFILE for free” ad? Well, NETFILE is always free. It’s a service provided by the CRA, so it doesn’t matter which software product you choose to prepare your tax return.

You do have choice when it comes to tax software. Of course we think you should use SimpleTax (because we’re awesome), but we want you to pick the product that makes you the happiest. You can explore your options on the CRA Certified Software Page.

Just keep in mind that “free” isn’t always free.

Last Updated January 11, 2021

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