Tax Season Tips

Business
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Rebecca Harpster
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Are you prepared for April 17? Although it feels like 2018 just started, your taxes are due next month! Taxes can be confusing and overwhelming, but your BBB is here to help. You have a few options when it comes to filing: you can fill out your paperwork yourself by hand, use an online program, or hire a tax professional.

Whichever method you choose, it’s important to do your research. Your taxes contain a plethora of personal information that identity thieves and scammers would love to get their hands on. Make sure to practice smart cybersecurity and avoid tax scams.

The following BBB tips will help you file your taxes like a pro:

  • Finding a tax preparer. It’s important to work with a tax professional that you can trust. In 2017, consumers nationwide filed around 2,200 complaints with BBB against tax return preparation companies. Common complaints allege companies filling out returns incorrectly, as well consumers being overcharged for services. Find a trustworthy BBB Accredited tax preparer near you at bbb.org. If you haven’t worked with a professional before, you may want start meeting with multiple preparers to choose the right one for you. Schedule appointments now, as calendars fill up quickly during tax season.
  • Going online. Thinking of filing online? There are quite a few websites to choose from. Consumers nationwide filed dozens of complaints against tax software businesses with BBB in 2017. Complaints include malfunctioning software and misleading advertising. If the website advertises “free” filing, make sure to read the fine print. You may be charged for extras like filing both your state and federal returns, inputting different forms, or itemizing your deductions. You can easily research businesses online at bbb.org. Look at their BBB Rating, Customer Reviews, and complaint history to get the full picture.
  • Cybersecurity. Ensure that any website you’re using is legitimate and secure. Look for the “https:” and other trust marks, and read the privacy policy. Make sure your computer’s anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-malware software is up-to-date and running. If you’re filing online, only file from secure computers. Never use public Wi-Fi to enter personal or log-in information. When creating an account on a tax filing website, use a long and strong password – you don’t want anyone else to be able to get in!
  • Organize your paperwork. Organize your receipts, necessary forms (including W-2s and 1099s), and proof of charitable contributions, and keep everything in one place. Determine whether you’re missing any necessary forms, and reach out to the appropriate organizations as soon as possible to ensure that you’ll receive them on time. Figure out if you’ll take the standard deduction or if you’ll exceed it. All of this information is important to have on hand when filing your taxes online or meeting with a professional. You can find all necessary forms on the IRS’ website, IRS.gov, under “Forms and Instructions”.
  • Watch out for scams. Tax scams were BBB’s #1 scam in both 2015 and 2016. BBB saw around a 60% decrease in tax scam reports from 2016 to 2017, but consumers nationwide still reported more than 3,100 of them to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker). Watch out for any unsolicited or suspicious phone calls, emails, or other contact from the “IRS”. The IRS won’t initiate contact with you over phone, social media, or email. Watch out for official-looking communications claiming to be able to greatly reduce your tax liability or get you a too-good-to-be-true refund. Always do your research when finding a tax preparer and be cautious of who you deal with, who’s receiving your personal or financial information, and what’s being done on your behalf.

You can reach your BBB at info@bbbemail.org or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting bbb.org.

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