It’s almost Tax Day, April 15, the deadline to file federal income tax returns. If you’re rushing to file your taxes, there are some things to keep in mind so you don’t trip up on unexpected fees or scams aimed at taxpayers.
At this point, while you can file yourself for free, you’re probably thinking that it may be simpler to have a professional prepare your taxes. Just be sure to choose carefully. This time of year, tax preparers pop up at temporary locations. Ask about the training and experience of the preparer.
For more complicated returns, or if you’ve experienced a significant life event in the last year, it may be wise to choose an accountant, tax attorney, or an enrolled agent (a preparer who is licensed by the Internal Revenue Service and specifically trained in federal taxes.)
Anyone who is paid to prepare federal tax returns is required to have a current Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Make sure the PTIN is entered on your tax return.
Check out a tax preparer with BBB at bbb.org. A BBB Business Review includes contact information, the BBB rating from A+ to F and reasons for the rating, and customer complaint details, if any. You can also find BBB Accredited Businesses in your community through the BBB Accredited Business Directory on your local BBB’s website.
Watch out for fees for additional services. Every year, BBB hears from consumers who are surprised by additional fees for services such as “instant refunds”, also called “rapid refunds”, or online filing. An “instant refund” actually is a “refund anticipation loan” – a loan paid to you right away, based on the amount you are expected to receive as a tax refund. But the fee for the “instant refund” can be quite high. With online filing, your refund may not take very long. Ask yourself if you really need to pay a fee to receive the refund (maybe) a little sooner.
Watch out for tax scams, too. The IRS has compiled a useful list of the most common issues faced by consumers called the “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams.”
You can be a victim of identity theft through your tax return. In one scenario, the scammer files a tax return with a stolen Social Security number. When you file later, you’re told the return has already been filed and the refund’s been paid. It can take months for the theft to be investigated and for you to get your refund.
In other cases, unscrupulous preparers falsify returns and arrange for refunds to go directly to the scammer. Be sure to look over your return before it’s filed and insist on getting a copy at the time it’s completed.
IRS offers tips for last-minute filers at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Last-Minute-Filers-Avoid-Common-Errors-2014
For more helpful tips and timely warnings from BBB, start at bbb.org.