H&R Block launches AI tax filing assistant – The Verge

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AI Tax Assist will answer users’ tax filing questions.

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Tax prep company H&R Block released a new conversational AI chatbot that answers taxpayer questions. 

AI Tax Assist, accessed through paid versions of H&R Block’s DIY tax software, lets users ask questions on tax rules, possible exemptions, and other tax-related issues. It also points people to a human tax expert for more personalized advice, though the company said it is working on supporting AI-powered personalized advice as well. 

In a demo, the company showed how users with complicated tax filing statuses — say a gig worker — can start their tax returns. They can then ask AI Tax Assist for information like, “What can I deduct as business expenses as an Uber driver?” The AI will provide a list of allowed deductions, and the user can choose to use that list or not in the final filing.

H&R Block will show a banner informing users that the feature is powered by AI and offer sample prompts. The company said customers want to be informed that a feature uses AI to help build trust. It added that part of the reason they’re confident people will use the feature is the trust customers have built with H&R Block.

The company said that it found users don’t simply want to be told what to do with their taxes but instead want to understand how their tax filing works. AI Tax Assist offers information on different kinds of tax exemptions and how other assets, like cryptocurrency, are treated under the tax code.

Chris Linderwell, vice president of consumer tax products at H&R Block, said during a briefing that many users often turn to Google when they’re confused about how to file their taxes. AI Tax Assist is meant to encourage users to stay on H&R Block’s platform when seeking tax answers instead.

“We want to empower customers to ask questions as deep as they want, and over time, we can give more personalized answers to their questions on our platform through AI Tax Assist,” Linderwell said.

H&R Block said that while AI Tax Assist is not available on the free version of its app, it will not increase the prices of its subscription tiers that will have access to the conversational AI platform. Its paid plans start at $35. 

H&R Block built AI Tax Assist with models from OpenAI and Microsoft. The company emphasized that it trained only on H&R Block’s library of tax laws and refined with the help of its many accountants, lawyers, and other tax professionals. It said the model did not pull from the internet. Linderwall said the feature was built to only answer with specific H&R Block content. H&R Block, which does still operate brick-and-mortar tax services, hopes that AI Tax Assist feels a lot like speaking to one of its human accountants. If people have concerns over the AI-provided answers, the company said their team of live human experts can also provide their services via phone.

Of course, there is always the possibility of hallucinations that produce false information — and in tax preparation, the stakes are unusually high. While no company can yet guarantee AI will not hallucinate, H&R Block said users can double check information with a human. It also has a team that monitors the model for accuracy and that it behaves the way it was designed. The Verge asked H&R Block what recourse users can take if the bot provides false information.

Other tax prep apps, like Intuit’s TurboTax, announced it will use AI to surface missing information on tax filings and make recommendations to maximize deductions. 

Filing taxes has long been a confusing process that companies like H&R Block and Intuit grew into profitable businesses while lobbying against making the process cheaper or easier. Despite this, the government is testing its own direct tax filing software — but many people will still be turning to private platforms over the next few months. 

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