Over the years I’ve watched Americans “outsource” more and more activities. We prefer the convenience of paying someone else to do the things we don’t like to do, and I get that. When it comes to filing your taxes, however, it is important to at least be engaged in the process. There are two reasons for this. The first, and most important, is you need to understand how our tax system works. The second reason is you want to make sure your return is done correctly. Regardless of who prepares your return, in the end you are personally responsible for the accuracy of its contents. Beware of preparers who make outlandish promises of “bigger” refunds. This scam involves claiming tax credits or deductions that you are not eligible to receive, and that you would potentially owe back to the IRS, plus penalties and interest.
Another top IRS scam involves people who pretend to be tax preparers, but really want to steal your personal information and your refund. Do not respond to phishing e-mails or text messages offering to prepare your tax return. I have a rule to never do business with anyone who solicits in this way, as I have no idea who they really are and what they are really about.
Now for the good news. Many people can file their federal return, free, from the www.irs.gov website. For 2017, if your income was less than $64,000 last year, you can e-file for free starting Jam. 13. If you would rather use paper forms, those will be available on the website Jan. 23. State returns are also available on the site. If you e-file, make sure you print the confirmation page (as well as the return) for your records. If you will be receiving a refund, you need to know that if you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child tax credit, your refund will be held until Feb. 15. You can check on your refund as quickly as 24 hours after you e-file your return. Please share this information with family members, co-workers and friends. Many people have no idea they can file for free, so spend $300 or more to file a simple return.
Do you have a friend or relative who is unsure whether they even need to file a return? The www.irs.gov website now has a tool to help answer this question. Click on “Filing” at the top of the website, then “Do I need to file a return?” The system will ask questions about your filing status, taxes paid and income to determine whether you need to file.
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One last note about scams. The IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment, or ask you to use a specific payment method like a debit card or wire transfer. Nor will they call you to “verify” your personal information. If you owe taxes, the IRS will send a letter to you, and you will have the opportunity to dispute the balance owed, or set up a payment plan. This tax season, kick off your financial goals by guarding your money and your information.
Sherri Goss is senior vice president of Rosenberg Financial Group, Inc., with offices in Macon and Warner Robins. You can reach her by calling 478-922-8100, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.