HR Block charged me $100 for a "review"—that is, entering in their system what I myself calculated my returns would be (via TurboTax), and seeing what they could come up with to beat that. If they were able to save me money (after deducing their fees, to my advantage), they said I was obligated to file my taxes with them.
Am I actually obligated? Or is it more an obligation out of courtesy?
I'd done my own taxes on TurboTax for years, but this year, relocating from New York to California and working form home (for the same company), I knew my taxes were gonna be a little more complicated. For example I'd always taken standard deductions, and this year I'd have to itemize my deductions to expense Home Office costs.
I used TurboTax as usual, but was disappointed to see that I owed New York State nearly $3,000. I didn't outright reject this figure. How should I know? I'd filed taxes only a handful of times in my life, all in New York State. Plus, I live in California, but I still work for the same company in New York—and in New York City, nonetheless. Maybe I'm obligated to pay taxes in all these jurisdictions. Maybe it's just the cost of being a part-year resident between NYC and another state, and next year will be better. I had no clue.
Still, it seemed imprudent to accept without checking with someone, so I sought a tax professional. This late in the game though, no CPAs were taking clients. (Having never hired a tax professional before, I didn't realize there was such a crunch.) Only HR Block was willing to schedule a consultation.
So, as already summarized at top, HR Block was going to charge me $100 for a "review," where they'd see whether they could do any better. And if they could, they stated that I was obligated to file my taxes with them. Regardless the obligation, paying $100 to gain knowledge (and possibly a positive return) seemed more than worth it, so I scheduled a consultation.
Within the first 5 minutes of that consultation, the tax professional immediately noted that my employer made a mistake on my W-2, listing my entire income as New York State income, instead of only the portion earned while I was a resident of New York State. I never thought to question the very figures printed on a W-2.
Other than correcting that single numeric figure, everything else was entered exactly as I had on TurboTax. Later in fact, I logged into TurboTax again, corrected that one field, and found that I would have received even higher returns than HR Block filed for, because I was more meticulous about my itemized deductions at home.
Anyway, I was happy that instead of owing New York State nearly $3,000, New York State owed me nearly $500. A huge difference.
It's too late for me now—I already filed with HR Block. But I still wonder—could I have walked out in the first 5 minutes? (The thing is, even if I wasn't legally bound, I would have felt like an indecent human being to leave after finding out that critical piece of information. But are tax professionals used to that sort of thing?)