Friday, March 2, 2018

Money Life Lately: Dirty Money on Netflix and Breaking up with Turbotax

Fossil Mini Tab Wallet (affiliate link) - I ordered from Nordstrom Rack, where it's sold out. It carries a lot, and I like the design! Only downside is that the zip pocket in back is tiny and and not functional for anything more than 2-3 folded bills.

This first part of 2018 has been busy on the personal finance-management front! I filed my taxes and application for student loan refinancing. I've also recommitted to the You Need a Budget ("YNAB") philosophy, living on last month's income and budgeting with only the dollars I already have, rather than starting each month by budgeting paychecks not yet received. Time will tell if that new budgeting approach is, by itself, enough to make a difference in my spending.

Netflix's Dirty Money

For Netflix subscribers, I recommend the Dirty Money series. It's a fun, sharp take on a few stories of highly questionable business practices. So far, I've only watched the episodes on HSBC's anti-money laundering policy failures, Valeant Pharmaceuticals's price-hiking, and Scott Tucker's payday lending empire, and they're great, accessible stories.

As someone with some relevant legal knowledge, Dirty Money is a bit weak in terms of explaining the underlying law: what laws were violated (in the case of HSBC and Tucker; there weren't any charges in Valeant's case). Though I don't really blame them, as  federal white collar crime can be... complicated, and surprisingly abstract. This is particularly apparent in the Scott Tucker episode. During the episode, Tucker and his associates obviously insist Tucker did nothing wrong. I don't think any other part of the episode clearly explained the alleged crime, though some of the related legal questions, such as why Tucker claimed his business was a tribal entity, are discussed. (Rest assured, the jury found Tucker and a co-defendant in violation of various criminal statutes.)

I take the Valeant situation personally. To my knowledge, a Valeant entity is the sole manufacturer  of Retin-A Micro (as a generic) for the US, so their price-hiking has affected me directly. I used to get a six-month supply of Retin-A Micro for a $10 co-pay on every previous insurance plan, but during my most recent round of dermatologist treatment, the co-pay was $80 for the same tube, despite my being on an excellent government employee insurance plan. I'm on a cheaper insurance plan now, so I shudder to think what the co-pay will be. If you run most of Valeant's products through, say, GoodRx to get a general sense of pricing without insurance, you can see how they're far more expensive than any other generics. 

Should I Break Up with Turbotax? 

I always get my taxes done early, in large part because of identity theft-related fears. Also, because of the timing of my job transitions, and my dramatic jumps from higher to lower salaries and back, I've usually had a large tax refund to look forward to. Tax time is far better than Christmas! (It won't be that way anymore next year, though.) 

This isn't a flattering thing to admit, because someone who took introductory tax in law school (focused on personal income tax, no less) really should be less intimidated, but I've always used Turbotax because they have the simplest and most intuitive user interface I've tried. I've used both the online version (in my student years when I made little enough to qualify for the "freedom" edition) and the desktop software. I've also dabbled with a few competitors: CreditKarma is free but can't yet handle filing in more than one state, and TaxSlayer was frustrating because it wasn't as user-friendly. (I have not, however, tried H&R Block, which is supposed to be user-friendly, but also fairly expensive.) 

Every other year or so, there's some big, annoying problem with Turbotax. They try to nickel and dime you with weird, unnecessary offers and services throughout the process, particularly online. It's always expensive, especially because I've recently needed to file in two states, for an extra $39.99 plus tax (ha!) on top of the price for Turbotax Deluxe (affiliate link). The software often has weird glitches, and, most problematic, often has trouble saving the forms to a PDF without some kind of bizarre workaround.  

This year, I thought they'd really gone and done it, as the software crashed every single time I tried to save as a PDF or print. I was ready to break up with Turbotax for sure. It had efiled fine and I was resigned to possibly needing to request and pay for a copy of my return from the IRS and the appropriate state agencies if I needed a copy in the future.  As it turns out, at some point in the dozen or so attempts to get it to save a PDF, it somehow successfully did, even though the software crashed and didn't indicate the process was successful. Still, that's probably a lesson to me that it's time to break up with Turbotax. It's caused me more than enough frustration over the years. 

If you're an American taxpayer, what software, if any, do you use to do your taxes? Have you also suffered the indignities of Turbotax's glitches and sneaky upselling? Is anyone else also affected by Valeant's price-hiking? P.S. if you're an American taxpayer with Adjusted Gross Income ("AGI") is under $66,000, there are several free software options available every year. This year's availability can be found here on the IRS's site

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from anyone who might be reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.