Tax Hacks 2015: 6 Things Sneaky Tax Preparers Won’t Tell You

Photo (cc) by psd

It’s sad. Many highly ethical tax professionals are working hard to help taxpayers, but tax season brings out fraudsters, scammers and plain vanilla take-advantage-of-you-while-your-guard-is-down types. It can be hard to tell the difference.

From fraud to incompetence to hinky tricks to outright ripoffs, the field of tax preparation is a magnet for some of the worst consumer abuses. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson describes common tax-time schemes to part you from your money. After watching, read on to find out what the worst tax preparers won’t tell you.

1. I’m incompetent and untrained

Tax preparation is a mostly unregulated field. According to The National Consumer Law Center, in a report called “Riddled Returns: How Errors and Fraud by Paid Tax Preparers Put Consumers at Risk and What States Can Do“:

There are no minimum educational, training, competency or other standards. In 47 states, there are more regulatory requirements for hairdressers than tax preparers.

Preparers commit errors, misclassify taxpayers’ filing status, mishandle tax credits and even falsify information on tax returns, the report says. These aren’t just a few bad eggs, either. The problems involve “a significant percentage of the preparers tested,” the report says.

It’s no joke for taxpayers. “Consumers who select incompetent or unscrupulous preparers could face audits by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or even criminal sanctions,” a NCLC press warns.

Stay safe with tax preparation experts who are:

  • Licensed CPAs (certified public accountant).
  • IRS enrolled agents.
  • Trained volunteers with one of two programs, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or AARP Tax Aide (details below).

2. You could do this yourself

Doing your own taxes saves the $273, on average, that National Society of Accountants says taxpayers will spend for tax preparation assistance this year. According to Huffington Post financial contributor Carrie Smith, you’re a good DIY candidate if you:

  • have just one job.
  • no major changes in your income or filing status last year.
  • own no property or investments.
  • can understand the tax laws.
  • are “a numbers person.”
  • didn’t marry, divorce, lose a spouse or have a child last year.
  • didn’t start a new business.
  • aren’t easily overwhelmed by money issues.

One possible reason to consult an expert, Smith says, is that tax credits and deductions for dependents expire, depending on their ages:

If your child goes to college full-time, you can still claim them — and any education expenses — until they’re 24. Determining these situations accurately takes someone who is knowledgeable.

If you made less than $60,000 last year, you may use the IRS Free File tax prep software to prepare and file free of charge online. Free File uses electronic versions of IRS paper forms. You fill them out and file your taxes online. The software includes basic guidance only, however, so it’s best used if you’ve done your own taxes before.

3. You shouldn’t pay so much

It can be hard to comparison shop for tax preparation services because preparers may be unwilling to quote a price or, if they do, give inaccurate quotes, according to The National Consumer Law Center report. If you can’t get a ballpark figure after describing your situation to a preparer, look for someone else.

It’s easy to try and compare the many tax preparation software products offered for free or cheap online for federal taxes, says Consumer Reports. Most don’t charge until you file your completed tax form, so CR recommends that you try programs and then close them before filing if you don’t like the price they quote.

4. Don’t click on those pop-ups

There’s a cavalcade of free online tax preparation products, but they are free only if you ignore the options for upgrades. Stick with the no-frills versions of online products by turning a blind eye to pop-ups that offer enhanced services with fees attached.

5. You could get free help

Some tax preparers will take your money although they know full well you qualify for free tax prep services. Before paying for tax help, check the options.

6. You can get your refund quickly without these crazy fees

Try to wait the roughly two-to-three weeks it takes to receive your refund and, if you can, avoid instant-refund products because of the ridiculously steep fees. The IRS describes these products:

If you file electronically, your tax preparer or tax preparation and filing software may suggest you purchase a bank product that typically sets up a temporary bank account to receive your income tax refund. Such bank products include, but are not limited to, refund anticipation loans (RALs), refund anticipation checks (RACs), gift cards and debit cards.

Federally regulated banks no longer make refund anticipation loans. But you’ll find them elsewhere, writes USA Today, citing an example of a refund loan with 273 percent interest.

Here are safe ways to get your refund as quickly as possible:

  • If you can’t pay the tax prep fee. Instead of getting a refund anticipation check to cover your tax prep costs, see if you can use one of the many no-cost tax preparation options.
  • If you don’t have a bank account. If you e-file, you can get your refund loaded onto a prepaid card or payroll card, says CreditCards.com. Or consider Walmart’s new Direct2Cash tax refund service: Use a participating (non-electronic) tax-prep service (Walmart often has them in-store) and pick up your refund at a Walmart location after receiving a confirmation code in the mail. “Cash refunds will be available in roughly the same amount of time it takes for a direct deposit to show up in a filer’s account,” USA Today says. Walmart charges nothing, and the tax preparer can charge no more than $7 for the service.
  • If you have a checking account. Have the IRS deposit your refund directly into it, saving you from waiting for the mail to deliver your check.
  • If you just want the money fast. Also, US News says that IRS data shows early filers get their returns in 21 days, on average, compared with longer waits for those who file later. Also, e-filing (filing electronically rather than sending a paper form by snail mail) puts your return in IRS hands faster.

Have you prepared your own taxes? Were the savings worth the effort? Post a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
17 Home Maintenance Tasks That Save You Money
17 Home Maintenance Tasks That Save You Money

Here’s how to cut household costs and maintain your property’s value.

Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off
Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off

A common behavior becomes increasingly dangerous for those who are 50 or older.

These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation
These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation

Two types of vehicles are especially likely to see steep plunges in value.

The Annuity Everyone Needs — and Anybody Can Get
The Annuity Everyone Needs — and Anybody Can Get

This simple strategy can put more money in your pocket during retirement.

9 Hidden Ways to Get More Out of Amazon
9 Hidden Ways to Get More Out of Amazon

You don’t have to be a Prime member to take advantage of these little-known perks of shopping on Amazon.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

This iconic dinnerware is prized for everyday use as well as reselling for profit.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken
Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken

Something foul may lurk in those delicious, ready-to-eat birds.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon
Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon

Just because you can purchase something on Amazon doesn’t mean that you should.

7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make
7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make

Sometimes a big-ticket purchase is nothing more than a big waste of money.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.