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Have you started your income taxes yet?

Taxes_helpMy income taxes are almost finished. All I have to do is print out the forms and write out the check. It’s a relief. Since I have a writing business that involves keeping track of my expenses and mileage, it takes a long time to prepare my taxes.

For the past two years, I’ve used TurboTax. I used it several years ago, and I didn’t like it. The categories were different than how I added things up, and I found some parts of it confusing. However, last year, I figured I could call TurboTax for help when I got stuck.

In 2016, I had a bad experience with H&R Block. I couldn’t get an estimate from the receptionist on how much it might cost to get my income taxes prepared, nor could I get an estimate when I took my draft forms in and showed them to a tax preparer.

The tax preparer said he’d give me an estimate when he finished my return. Then, I could accept or reject his work. I was shocked when he said the fee would be $472. I was worn out dealing with my taxes, so I paid the high fee.

It looks like H&R Block charges about $100 per schedule. They should just tell you that.

I had a similar experience with H&R block about 10 years before that. My mom passed away and I needed extra help. Again, the tax preparer said it wouldn’t cost much. However, again, it was hundreds of dollars.

For about five years, I went to the library in my area and had volunteers from AARP help me with my taxes. Although they did a good job, I didn’t like the remarks they made about business in the years I had more expenses than revenue in my business.

Those are my income tax experience. But, they’re pale compared to what could happen if you get taken in by a scam artist. Here are some examples from the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Identity thieves file a fake tax return and have the refund deposited into your bank account. The thieves then contact you, usually by phone, and – posing as the IRS or debt collectors for the IRS – demand you return the money to the IRS. But following the thieves’ instructions actually sends the money to them. In another version, after you get that erroneous refund, you get an automated call, allegedly from the IRS, threatening you with criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant, and “blacklisting” of your Social Security number. The caller gives you a case number and a telephone number to call to return the refund. Don’t fall for the scam. If you or someone you know gets an unexpected tax refund, follow the guidance outlined by the IRS for how to return the funds.
  • Criminals are using imposter tax preparation sites and phone numbers to steal peoples’ personal information. You go online to find a tax preparation service to prepare and e-file your tax return. You click on a look-alike site created by scammers. It looks real, and it’s set up to collect personal information that can be used to commit fraud, including identity theft.

The FTC offers these tips to fight tax identity theft:

  • File your tax return early in the tax season, if possible.
  • Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.
  • Look for the tax preparer identification number when using an online tax preparation service. The IRS requires all paid tax preparers to have one before filing any returns.
  • Look for HTTPS at the start of the web address to determine if a website is encrypted. The “s” is for secure. Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, your entire account could be vulnerable.
  • Ask tax preparers about their data security policies, and how they protect your information.
  • Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report tax identity to the FTC if it happens to you. You can file an Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS electronically, and get a personal recovery plan.

For more information, check out the FTC’s imposters webpage. If you think something is a scam, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

Update: I mailed my income taxes today, March 15. What a success. A whole month early.

Comments

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Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski

I have mine done by a friend who has been doing them for years. Usually, with deductions, I come out fairly even and don't have to pay much. This year I got a whopper of a bill. With LA rent prices astronomical, I may have to move to Lisbon just to have a better quality of life. He's a good preparer, though. I trust him.

Rita

Hi Rebecca,

I'm glad that you've got a good tax preparer. It can be such a hassle, until you get a method figured out.

Rita

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