I know the deadline is still months away, but for those of us who believe in getting taxes done early, seeing that W-2 is reminder enough.
So, let's talk about finding a preparer and being aware of pitfalls.
Julie D. Cox, Cox-CPA & Company, in Boise, a certified public accountant, says, "One of the top priorities I recommend with any professional - tax preparer, lawyer, accountant - is make sure they are licensed with your state."
She says she's had several encounters where a preparer was not licensed with the state, but it was only discovered after errors surfaced in the IRS filing.
The Better Business Bureau says check your tax preparer qualifications at bbb.org. Not all tax preparers are created equal, so it's important to check a preparer's qualifications.
In addition, she says it's important that people know what they are signing. Just because you went to a preparer doesn't mean it was correct.
"It's important to check their work," Cox says. "You need to be able to communicate and understand what they're telling you. You don't want to just trust that they did your return right."
Cox says if the preparer can't explain how he filled out your return, "you need to get another one."
A large problem that many people will be faced with this year is delays in filing. Because the Internal Revenue Service was delayed in getting all its forms approved, preparers expect a domino effect. Returns will be delayed.
Because of those delays, some taxpayers may consider a loan that allow you to leave the preparer's office with a check or debit card rather than wait for the IRS to mail your refund.
The BBB advises consumers to avoid these costly loans, which are similar to payday loans and carry interest rates from 50 percent to 500 percent. Some have hidden administrative fees, too. If a preparer makes a mistake in calculating your refund, borrowers may have to pay fines and fees too.
In most cases, tax refund anticipation loans only give consumers their refund a few days faster than the IRS, which can direct deposit your refund in as few as 10 days.
Consumers may assume that the loans will be paid off quickly when their refund arrives. But if the refund is less than the loan, consumers will have to repay the difference, plus fees and fines.
"Beware of identity theft," Cox warns. "Be aware that there may be more of it this year."
The IRS warns about online schemes that can steal taxpayers' identities. Scam emails may say there's an issue with a refund, that the taxpayer is being audited or that there's a delay in processing the tax return.
The IRS will NOT contact you by email or phone. It won't request personal or financial information. If you're going to be audited you'll receive a letter.
Here's a checklist:
Check credentials. Is the preparer a certified public accountant (CPA), a tax lawyer or an enrolled agent? Registered with the state?
Be wary of promises. There is no way to know whether you'll get a refund.
Check accessibility. Will he or she be available after filing?
Read the contract: Know the cost, what it covers and whether the cost may increase.
Check your return: Before you sign the return, read it over carefully to check for mistakes.
Robb Hicken: 947-2115