As the tax filing season deadline approaches, the Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers to select who will prepare their 2016 federal tax return carefully.
Appointments with some tax professionals may be limited. A reputable preparer will ask to see a taxpayer’s records and receipts and can help file an extension to give the taxpayer time to collect any missing documents. The IRS urges taxpayers to avoid fly-by-night preparers who may not be available after April 18 and suggests checking the return preparer’s qualifications and history.
The IRS Choosing a Tax Professional page has information about tax preparer credentials and qualifications. The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help taxpayers identify local preparers by type of credential or qualification.
All paid tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. They must sign the return and include their PTIN. Ask about fees before providing personal financial records and receipts. Review the return and ask questions before signing it.
Free Tax Preparation
Each year, millions of tax returns are prepared for free by taxpayers using IRS Free File or by volunteers at community-based sites l staffed by IRS-trained volunteers that are located across the country.
IRS Free File lets taxpayers who earned less than $64,000 prepare and e-file a return for free using name-brand software. Go to IRS.gov and click on the ‘Filing’ tab for options. Free File software walks users through the tax preparation process and helps identify those tax changes that may affect their return. Those earning more than $64,000 can use Free File Fillable Forms, electronic versions of IRS paper forms.
IRS trained and certified volunteers at thousands of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (VITA and TCE) sites nationwide offer free tax preparation and e-filing. VITA offers free tax return preparation to taxpayers who earn $54,000 or less. The TCE program is mainly for people age 60 or older and focuses on tax issues unique to seniors. AARP participates in the TCE program and helps taxpayers with low- to moderate incomes.
To find the closest VITA site, visit IRS.gov and search the word “VITA.” Or download the IRS2Go app on a smart phone. Site information is also available by calling the IRS at 800-906-9887. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, visit aarp.org, or call 888-227-7669. There are also VITA and TCE sites that provide bilingual help.
Taxpayers who can’t file by the deadline should request an extension by using Free File on IRS.gov. In a matter of minutes, anyone can e-file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, and get a six-month extension. Requesting an extension to file does not extend the time to pay.