This year the deadline for filing 2017 income tax returns is Tuesday, April 17. Because the usual April 15 deadline falls on a Sunday and the next day, Emancipation Day, is a Washington, D.C. holiday, taxpayers get an additional day to file. Your Better Business Bureau, however, advises filing as quickly as possible to avoid taxpayer identity theft.
As has been said in this space, thieves are hard at work trying to beat taxpayers to the punch with stolen Social Security numbers. By now you should have your W2 or 1099 forms from your employers. That means it is time to get to work on your taxes. It may be a race against the crooks.
This year the IRS predicts that over 70 percent of taxpayers will get refunds. Just under 112 million received refunds last year, the average amount being $2,895. It’s easy to see what attracts scammers to the process. The IRS says that filing electronically and using direct deposit is consistently the safest and quickest way to file.
Roughly 70% of taxpayers are eligible for the IRS Free File program, found at IRS.gov. This is a partnership the IRS has undertaken with companies offering a dozen options of free brand-name software for tax preparation. 100 million individuals and families with incomes of $66,000 or less qualify for the program.
Using a tax preparer
If your taxes are complex, you may want to use a professional tax preparer. Before choosing one, take stock of what’s important to you. Want to save time, money, or both? Want to have the same preparer do your taxes every year?
For those looking to hire tax preparation professionals instead of doing their taxes themselves, BBB has the following advice:
• Ask lots of questions. What’s their area of expertise? What’s their background and level of experience?
• Get referrals from friends.
• Look up the preparer at bbb.org. Also do a web search on them.
• What’s the cost? Ask for a free estimate. How is the fee determined? Never accept it when they want to base the cost on the amount of your refund.
• If they offer immediate payment of refunds keep in mind that this is actually a loan. Be certain of the terms. Read all of the fine print before signing anything.
• Check whether the preparer will represent you in the case of an audit. Ask the cost of such service.
• Be sure the preparer can be reached throughout the year. (An audit will mean you have to contact them.)
• Inquire as to whether the accuracy of their work is checked by another person. Ask how thorough the checking process is: Just for math or for interpretation of tax rules?
• Your field of work may benefit from a tax preparer who has in-depth knowledge of it. Examples of this might be self-employment, physician or child care work or small business ownership.
• Ask if the preparer has ample time to devote to your taxes. (If they do a huge volume of work, they may not be able to give you the thorough, personal attention you deserve.)
Tax preparation can be a daunting task. The penalty for not getting it right can be severe as well. There are plenty of aids available if you want to do it yourself at a minimal cost. Take the time to assess your situation and make a sound decision as to whether you need a professional’s help with your returns.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your income tax preparation, contact your Better Business Bureau at 800-856-2417, or visit the BBB website bbbinc.org.