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Tips on Tax Preparation

To help you get a head start on your tax preparation, the Better Business Bureaus offer these tax-time tips. If you're looking for a professional to help you file your taxes, take care in selecting your preparer as you would any other professional. If your tax return is routine, a national tax service may be for you. These chains maintain franchise offices all over the country, and their main advantage is convenience. During tax time, offices may be open nights, weekends, and on a drop-in, first-come, first-served basis. Each company has a set fee schedule with cost being determined by the number of lines and forms that are filed.

If your return is complicated, you may want to hire an enrolled agent, certified public accountant (CPA) or a tax attorney. These tax preparers have more specialized training and, in case of an audit, may represent you before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Tax attorneys and CPAs also may be able to give advice on tax and financial planning.

The IRS warns consumers not to be lured by companies that promise the "biggest refund" without even seeing your tax information. Fees should be based on the complexity of the return, never on the size of the tax saving or refund. If you're filing your own forms, the IRS offers free tax assistance in local communities by IRS-trained volunteers, with specialized help available to address the concerns of the elderly. For the location and hours nearest you call 1-800-TAX- 1040, but remember to call early and avoid the last-minute rush to file.

According to the IRS, there are many common mistakes that delay refunds that tax filers can easily avoid, such as leaving off social security numbers and ZIP codes, and writing illegibly. The IRS recommends that filers use the pre-printed address label, and notes that, contrary to popular belief, the use of the label does not lead to an audit. Errors in math can be fixed by the IRS, and if the error changes your refund or payment amount you will be notified.

Even if you're financially strapped, you must file a return. The IRS reports that many people who don't file for fear of not being able to pay additional taxes, actually are due a refund. If you owe additional taxes, but can't pay the whole amount when you file your return, the IRS will work out an agreement that will allow you to pay off your taxes in monthly installments.

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