Tax time tips
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
The April 15th tax deadline is right around the corner, and many of us are frantically working to get our taxes done. If you’re expecting a refund, you’re probably in an extra hurry to file.
For many families, that refund check can’t come fast enough. We all want our money quickly, but think twice before you opt for an “instant” or “rapid” refund, also known as a refund anticipation loan or an RAL.
Accepting that check means you’re taking out a loan against the refund you hope to get back from the IRS. There’s no guarantee that you will get a refund from the IRS, and if you don’t, you’ll still have to pay back the loan. As with any loan, you’ll have to pay interest. But with RALs, the interest rate is usually much higher than conventional loans. You may also have to pay an extra filing fee on the RAL.
The good news is that you don’t need an RAL to get your refund fast. You’ll likely get a refund in as little as one or two weeks if you file your taxes electronically and sign up for direct deposit—without having to pay a large fee.
So before you sign up for a rapid refund, consider these free options for filing your taxes and claiming your refund:
- The IRS has partnered with Free File Alliance to provide use of their tax preparation software free for taxpayers making less than $57,000. The program is completely free and secure, and when used with direct deposit refunds, you may receive your refund in as few as 10 days. For more information visit www.irs.gov/efile.
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a nationwide program that gives low and middle income consumers free help with their taxes. To locate the nearest VITA site, call 1-800-829-1040.
- In North Carolina, State Employees’ Credit Union and the Local Government Federal Credit Union both offer free tax help through the VITA program for families earning less than $49,000. Credit unions and other lenders may also offer more affordable ways to take out a loan against your refund if you really need one.
- You might be entitled to a refund even if you don’t have to pay taxes. Call the IRS to learn more and to see if you qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families.
Considering getting help from a commercial tax preparer? There are many reputable tax preparation services that do a good job for their clients. But before you sign up with any tax preparation service, keep the following tips in mind:
- Check out the credentials and experience of the tax preparer. Check to see if they’ve had any complaints filed against them by calling my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina, or your local Better Business Bureau.
- Be careful about emailing information to a tax preparer or accountant because email is vulnerable to hackers. If you’re using a website to file your taxes, make sure your information is protected by looking for the lock icon on the address bar.
- Never agree to give your personal information to someone you don’t know who calls or emails you and offers to help with your taxes.
- Beware of tax preparers who try to sell you an extra guarantee. These guarantees claim that the company will reimburse you if they make a mistake with your tax returns and your filing has to be amended.
- Be skeptical of ads that promise to help resolve your debt to the IRS for cents on the dollar. Many of these companies charge a hefty fee but rarely get results.
- If you have questions about something a tax preparer tells you about your taxes, check it out. You can contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or the NC Department of Revenue at 1-877-252-4052.