Tax Time Tips
Tips to Consider when Filing your Taxes
- Guard your personal information. Identity thieves can use your Social Security number to take out loans, open credit cards or even collect your tax refund. Email is vulnerable to hackers, so avoid emailing your Social Security number or other confidential information to a tax preparer or accountant. 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.
- Beware of scammers posing as the IRS. Be wary of anyone who calls or emails you and offers to help with your taxes, demands tax payments, or claims to be with the IRS. If you get a call from someone claiming to work with a government agency, ask them for their name, identification number and contact number, then hang up and look up and call a known contact number for that government agency to verify the call. Avoid anyone who demands you make immediate payments using methods like gift cards, money orders, or wire transfers.
- Watch out for tax refund thieves. Tax refund theft is a growing problem. One way to help avoid becoming a victim of this scam is to file your tax return early, before the crooks file their fake return in your name. If you receive a notice or letter from the IRS indicating that more than one tax return was filed in your name, respond immediately to the IRS employee whose contact information was provided. You will also need to fill out IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. (You can now file this form electronically via IdentityTheft.gov.) Scammers might also file a false tax return in your name and have the refund deposited in your back account, and then contact you posing as the IRS to demand that you return the refund. However, the refund instructions they gave you will have you send the money to them instead. If you see an unexpected tax refund in your account, or someone calls to tell you that your refund is incorrect, you can contact the IRS to report the scam and find out how to return funds you didn’t file for.
- Think twice before you opt for an “instant” or “rapid” refund. Some tax preparers and banks offer a refund anticipation check (RAC). This is a paid service for taxpayers who don’t have a bank account to use for direct deposit of their refund, or don’t have the money to pay for tax preparation assistance. There’s a fee (typically about $30) to set up the RAC system. The preparer deducts that fee, their tax preparation charges and other fees from the eventual refund. After all that, there may not be much of your actual refund left.
- Get your refund quickly without paying any extra charges. If you file your taxes electronically and have your refund deposited directly into an existing bank account, your refund will probably arrive in less than three weeks. If you don’t have a bank account, you can you file your taxes electronically and get a refund check in the mail, or get your refund loaded on a prepaid card you already have.
- You might be entitled to a refund even if you don’t owe income taxes. Call the IRS or visit www.irs.gov/eitc to learn more and 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.
- Find trustworthy help with your taxes.
Get Help Preparing Your Taxes
If you need free assistance preparing your taxes, there are a number of places to turn for help:
- Taxpayers making $66,000 or less can use free tax preparation software through the IRS. When used with direct deposit, you may get your refund in as few as 10 days. For more information visit www.irs.gov/efile.
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is free for people who generally earn less than $55,000, people with disabilities, and people with limited English-speaking skills. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offers free tax help for taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, with questions about pensions and retirement-related issues. Find either a VITA or TCE site near you using the VITA/TCE Locator Tool.
If you’re considering using a paid tax preparer:
- Check their credentials and experience. Call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints filed against the preparer.
- Read any contracts or other paperwork carefully before you sign, and be sure to find out the total cost.
- Remember, you can shop around to compare costs and services from several tax preparers.
- Be skeptical of a preparer who tries to sell you an extra “guarantee” to cover you if they make a mistake on your tax returns.
- Review your return carefully before you file it. Some unscrupulous preparers deliberately falsify returns, usually by claiming fake credits such as an education credit or child care credit. That leads to a larger refund, until the error is discovered by the IRS. The taxpayer is usually required to repay a portion of their refund, sometimes with additional interest and penalties.
- 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.