Need Tax Filing Assistance? VITA Can Help

Tax filing assistance with VITA

Get tax filing assistance from skilled VITA volunteers


Tax season is upon us, and if you’re in need of tax preparation assistance, you’re in luck. The IRS offers two volunteer-based programs to qualified taxpayers.

VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) provides tax filing assistance to any taxpayer who meets any of the following criteria:

• Earn $54,000 or less per year
• Disabled
• Limited English proficiency speaker and will need help in reading and interpreting tax forms and tax return instructions.

VITA sites are found in community centers, shopping malls, senior centers, libraries and other community gathering spots. IRS-trained volunteers will help you file a basic tax return at no charge to you.

To locate a VITA site, call (800) 906-9887 or use the online locator to find a site near you.

Help For Taxpayers Over 60

If you’re over 60 and have retirement or pension-related tax concerns, the TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) program is available to you.

IRS-trained volunteers, in cooperation with the AARP Foundation will assist you in preparing and filing a basic tax return, much like they do in the VITA program.

To find the nearest TCE site, call (888) 227-7669 anytime between January and April to find the nearest site and/or to schedule your appointment.

To locate a TCE site online, use the AARP Tax Aide locator.

Getting Organized is Key

Regardless of which program you choose, getting organized ahead of time is essential to filing an accurate and timely return.

Limited-income taxpayers, disabled taxpayers and those with limited English skills are welcome to participate in the VITA program. Older taxpayers also have access to IRS-certified volunteers to help them file their tax returns.

If you are in any of the above groups and prefer to self-file, just look for the “self prep” designation in the VITA/TCE site listing.

Who Can Prepare Your Taxes?

Who Can Prepare Your Taxes2_

Find the right tax pro for your needs.

Last week, we discussed how to look for an ethical and qualified tax pro. If you’ve decided to not take the DIY approach to tax filing this year and enlist a tax pro, it’s also important to understand the difference between qualified tax preparers. Here’s a look at the various individuals that can file a tax return on your behalf.

PTIN holders: A PTIN holder is an individual that is not a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), tax attorney or Enrolled Agent(EA). While they can prepare and file a return on your behalf, they can only represent you under limited circumstances: With IRS revenue agents, IRS customer service representatives and those in the Taxpayer Advocate Service. A PTIN holder can’t represent you in an audit, appeal or collection proceeding.

Annual Filing Season Program Participants: This new officially program recognizes preparers who are not a CPA, EA, or tax attorney, but who have attended continuing education hours in preparation for each filing season. The IRS will issue them a Record of Completion. As with PTIN holders, a Filing Season Program Participant can’t represent you in an audit, appeal or collection proceeding. They can, however, represent you with IRS customer service agents, revenue agents, and Taxpayer Advocate personnel.

If you have a more complex return (rental properties, business or estate returns, extensive itemized deductions, foreclosure) or are facing IRS collection action, it’s best to work with a tax pro who has more extensive representation capabilities. Enrolled Agents, Certified Public Accountants and tax attorneys can represent you in an audit, collection action, and appeal action in addition to preparing and filing a return on your behalf.

Enrolled Agent(EA): An EA is licensed by the IRS and must pass a three-part Special Enrollment Exam. An EA must also be proficient in tax planning, preparing and filing individual and business returns and must participate in at least 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA): A CPA must have a degree in accounting from an accredited college or university, and must be licensed by the state Board of Accountancy in their state. In addition to passing the Uniform CPA Exam, a CPA must also meet ongoing ethical and character standards in order to continue to practice. Some CPAs specialize in tax planning and tax return preparation.

Tax attorney: Like all other attorneys, a tax attorney has attended an accredited law school, passed the state bar exam, and must meet ongoing ethical standards in order to remain in practice. They have additional coursework in taxation, and can represent you before the IRS. Your tax attorney can represent you in IRS proceedings for an audit, an appeal, or collection matter. You can find a tax attorney either as part of a group practice or as a sole practitioner.

We have tax pros on staff who can help you with just about any tax scenario you can think of, from representing you before the IRS to preparing and filing your return. Just give us a call or click the white “start chat” button at the top of any of our pages and get started today. Approach the coming tax season with peace of mind so you can focus on what matters to you most.

Unclaimed Tax Refunds: Make Sure Yours Isn’t One of Them

According to the IRS, many tax refunds are unclaimed each year. Here are some simple steps to make sure yours isn’t one of them.

1. File your returns each and every year. One of the biggest culprits in unclaimed refunds is unfiled tax returns. If you neglect to file your return and you are eligible for a refund, the IRS will keep those funds for up to three years. Be sure to file your return if you’re in the three-year window for a refund.

2. Double(and triple-check) your numbers for accuracy. If you use tax filing software, the program will automatically check your math. Same holds true if you file your returns at a tax filing firm or have a tax preparer file your return. If you’re taking the DIY route and filing a paper return, however, be sure to double-check your calculations.

An inaccurate return will not only cause delays, but it could also delay any refunds you may have coming.

3. Report any address changes to the IRS directly. Don’t rely on the postal service to forward any IRS correspondence. The address on your return must match the address the IRS has on file in order to eliminate any delays in processing your refund. Your refund could also be delayed if it’s sent to your old address. You can also elect to have your refund electronically deposited into your bank account to avoid any further mail-related delays.

4. Take advantage of every tax deduction available to you. If you’re a low-income earner, you may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example. Parents should look into the Child Tax Credit and other child-related deductions. Homeowners may be eligible for mortgage-related deductions. If you’re not sure which deductions you’d qualify for, check with a CPA or a tax pro. They can assess your individual tax scenario and advise you of which deductions you can claim on your return.

Hundreds of thousands of dollar in refunds go unclaimed every year. Don’t let yours be among them. File a return every year, double check your numbers, quickly report any address changes to the IRS, and take advantage of the deductions available to you. Taking these steps will ensure you will receive the refund that is rightfully yours.

Identity Theft: What To Do If You’ve Been Ripped Off

Last week’s post dealt with preventing identity theft. This is especially true for the holidays, as cyber thieves just love to take advantage of the increased debit and credit card transactions that occur during the busy shopping season.

Amateur identity thieves will sometimes rifle through people’s trash, hoping to come across discarded bank statements or other forms with account numbers or other sensitive information printed on them.

Sometimes, you won’t know you’re a victim of identity theft until months or years after the fact. You go to use your credit card, or to file your taxes, only to find that someone else has already done so under your name. A quick check of your credit report shows a random loan under your name, or the IRS insists your tax return has already been processed and your refund sent.

Those are dead giveaways. Here’s what to do if you discover you’ve been a victim of identity theft:

  • Contact the affected party. For example, if someone cleaned out your bank account or opened an account  under your name, contact the back or credit card company immediately. Complete all the steps necessary to report the fraudulent transaction or account. Do this as soon as you realize you’ve been ripped off.
  • Review all of your credit reports. You are entitled to one free copy from each credit reporting agency per year. Review each report for fraudulent activity. File a written dispute for each fraudulent account. Place a fraud alert on all three credit reports; you’ll be notified if anyone attempts to open an account or take out a loan in your name. You can contact the credit reporting agencies by phone or mail.
  • File a police report and identity theft affidavit through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Many banks, mortgage companies and other entities will require this information in order for you to file a report with them.
  • Notify government agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the IRS. When tax time rolls around you may be asked to provide additional information to verify your identity, but the extra due diligence will be worth it in the long run.
  • Continue to monitor your credit reports, loans, and bank accounts. Some banks and credit reporting agencies offer credit monitoring services in exchange for a monthly fee, or you can monitor your accounts yourself. Either way, monitor your accounts often. Once someone has your personal information, they will continue to use it as much as they can. It’s not uncommon for identity theft syndicates to swipe consumer information, only to use it for themselves or to sell it to other entities.

Safeguarding your personal information is a must year-round, but especially during the holiday season. Never disclose your PIN or bank account number to anyone. Never write down your PIN where it can easily be found, such as in your wallet or even in your phone.

Act quickly if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Notify your bank, credit reporting agencies, mortgage company and other entities. Fill out a police report and an FTC affidavit. Don’t wait. Untangling identity theft can take time, and you want time on your side.

By taking a proactive approach to safeguarding your personal information, you’re less likely to be targeted by identity thieves. If you are one of the unlucky ones who has been targeted, you have the information you need to take action quickly.

  Stay safe out there.

4 Red Flags: How To Spot a Bad Tax Preparer

wordle3

You’ve taken the DIY approach to filing your taxes, and you’d rather not do it again if you can help it. You’ve heard about professional tax preparers, but aren’t sure how to spot the bad ones. Since no two tax preparers are alike, here are some red flags to watch for:

1. They don’t ask you for any supporting documentation on tax filing day. Your tax preparer should ask you for your W2 and 1099 income forms, receipts for your itemized deductions (if applicable) and any other paperwork that can back up the figures that will be on your tax returns. If your tax preparer tells you they don’t need that information, get up and get out.

2. They file your return without your W2. While it’s true that the your final pay stub will have all the correct income information, along with state and federal taxes withheld, the IRS won’t accept your return unless you provide a W2 (filing by snail mail) or if your employer hasn’t yet filed their W2 information with the IRS.

Any tax preparer who tells you they can file your return without that information isn’t telling the truth.

3. They don’t have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Every qualified tax preparer that is a registered professional with the IRS has a PTIN. As to see your preparer’s PTIN; if they don’t have one, you’re not dealing with a legitimate tax professional.

Finally…

4. They encourage you to exaggerate or to embellish figures to increase your tax refund. This is not only unethical, it’s illegal. It may be tempting to take a larger deduction or to claim more expenses in order to increase your refund or to decrease your tax liability, but being charged with tax fraud just isn’t worth it. Walk away from a preparer that encourages you to do either. It’s not worth it.

A legitimate tax preparer will ask you for supporting documentation, will only file your return once your W2 is issued, and will only file a return based on verifiable numbers. They’ll also be registered with the IRS and will have a PTIN. Avoid any tax preparer that doesn’t meet these guidelines.

Tax day is stressful enough. Don’t add to the stress by allowing a sketchy tax preparer to file your returns. The additional stress, legal implications and financial hardship just aren’t worth it in the long run.