Tips for Trusting Your Tax Preparer

Most people get help filing their taxes, either from computer software or a professional tax preparer. Scams have some consumers concerned about who they can trust with their financial data and private information.

A paid tax return preparer is primarily responsible for the overall, substantive accuracy of your tax return(s). If there is a problem with your return or you are audited by the IRS, the tax preparer can help you address the issue and can often represent you. The preparer is required to sign your tax forms (paper or electronic) and provide their preparer tax identification number (PTIN), a number assigned by the IRS.

Better Business Bureau advises taxpayers to be extra cautious when choosing a tax preparer, since that person or company will have access to your personally identifiable information (PII). Here are some BBB tips to help you find a tax preparer you can trust.

Get Referrals. To find a tax preparer, start by asking friends and family for recommendations, then check BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org. Look beyond the letter grade; complaint details and Customer Reviews will tell you about others’ experiences.

Make sure they are properly registered. A tax preparer must obtain a PTIN from the IRS. Never let someone work on your taxes unless they have this number. Don’t be afraid to ask about this or other qualifications; a capable professional does not mind questions.

Look for credentials. Anyone with a PTIN can prepare your tax forms for you, but some tax preparers have more training and qualifications than others. Enrolled agents, certified public accountants (CPAs) and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent their clients to the IRS on all matters. Other preparers can help you with forms and simple IRS matters, but are limited otherwise, and they can’t help you if they didn’t prepare your form. Learn more about tax preparer credentials on the IRS website.

Keep a watchful eye for promises. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund. Also be wary of “refund anticipation loans,” which can take a hefty chunk of your refund in commission. Refunds are processed quickly these days, so it’s a better bet to just wait for the real thing rather than pay a premium to get it now.

Search for free tax programs. There are several free government programs that prepare taxes free of charge if you meet an income requirement; go to the IRS’s Free File page for more information. Check with your state government to find out about their program (search “file tax free” and your state’s name in a search engine, and look for .gov websites).

Tax Software and Apps. If you plan to file yourself, use tax software or an app that provides both excellent data security and good customer service. Some of the top names in tax prep software are BBB Accredited Businesses, so check with bbb.org first.

Newman at cash register

Why Would You Overpay? Oh, it’s a Scam

The “overpayment” scam is back and it doesn’t discriminate…this affects consumers, businesses and also nonprofits.

This classic scam has been around for a while. A scammer sends a check or PayPal wire to you, but then says that they “overpaid.” They then ask you to re-send or re-wire the overpayment to another account, usually giving them access to your bank information and more. From there, the scammers can take all of your money, not just the amount you “sent back.”

BBB offers the following advice to avoid an overpayment scam:

  • Know who you’re dealing with. In any transaction, confirm the buyer/seller/donor name, street address and telephone number.
  • Don’t wire. Never under any circumstances wire funds back to the person, a legitimate buyer/seller/donor will not insist upon this type of request.
  • Never assume that a check is legitimate, even if it’s a cashier’s check. It may take weeks for a financial institution to learn that it is counterfeit.
  • Never accept payment for more than the purchase price of a product or service.
  • Keep in mind, you are the party who is ultimately liable to your financial institution. Verify all checks, as well as certified checks, with the issuing financial institution.

BBB urges any consumer, business or nonprofit that receives such emails not to respond or engage in any way. If you receive a check, do not deposit it and report your experience to your BBB.

 

New Year, Better Wallet: 7 Budgeting Tips for Everyone

Many people start the new year with leftover debt from the previous year, and additional interest month after month just makes the problem worse as the year goes on. If one of your resolutions is to create a budget or get out of debt, BBB has some tips and tools to help you get on the right track to a better financial future.

  • Track your spending. Whether you prefer an app on your phone, computer software, or simply a notebook to jot down your expenses, keeping track is critical. It helps you see where you are actually spending your money, rather than where you think you are.
  • Categorize your spending. Create categories based on necessities (housing, utilities, food, transportation) and luxuries (entertainment, dining out, travel). If you have credit card balances, student loans, car payments or other debt, make “debt reduction” one of your necessary categories.
  • Set up a budget. Once you have an idea where you are spending money, you can set up a realistic budget. There are free online tools to help you, so there is no need to spend a lot of money. Be cautious of scams, however, and never share personal identifying information (PII) unless you are sure of the site’s legitimacy.
  • Pay down debt. One method is to pay off the credit account or loan with the highest interest rate first (the “ladder method”). Another is to pay off the smallest balance first so you feel a greater sense of accomplishment (the “snowball method”). Use whichever methods works best for you. The important thing is that you are doing it.
  • Pay bills on time. Consider online bill-paying that eliminates writing checks, buying stamps, etc. Automatic payments can be scheduled ahead of time and can help you avoid late fees and penalties for missed payments.
  • Save for the big things. Big purchases, such as vacation or holidays, can easily blow your budget. Avoid going into debt for these expenditures by saving up ahead of time and only spending what you are able to save. Many banks and credit unions offer savings clubs that might help.
  • Save for emergencies. Emergencies – car or home repair, unexpected medical expenses, job loss – can blow your budget. Financial experts suggest an emergency fund of 3-6 months’ living expenses. If that is too ambitious, start smaller and build up.

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