Avoiding problems when paying taxes

The time and energy spent filling out paperwork can make tax time stressful. Depending on how you file, tax time can also be expensive. If you have questions about filing your taxes, consider our time and money-saving tips. 

Q: How do I file my taxes?

The easiest and fastest way to file your taxes is through the IRS website. The site links to many companies that will efile your federal tax return for free. Some of these services require payment for filing state taxes. 

You can also file by mail. Download the forms from the IRS website or get them from your local library branch. You'll need the Form 1040, 1040EZ, or 1040A depending on the complexity of your return.

Q. Can I get free help to file my taxes?

Yes! If you made $57,000 or less, you may use one of the free efile services available through the IRS website. Many states support free efiling through the state's department of revenue website.

The IRS also sponsors free tax preparation services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Call 1-800-906-9887 to find a VITA site near you, and make sure your tax preparer is accredited by the IRS or your state department of revenue.

The IRS has free tools and a Frequently Asked Questions guide online. You can also call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for individual returns, and 1-800-829-4933 for business returns.

Q. If I make more than $57,000, can I file for free?

Yes. Search online for "free tax preparation" to find Internet-based and volunteer services.

Q. If I pay someone to do my taxes, what should I watch out for?

You could be dealing with an unscrupulous return preparer if they:

  • Do not sign or do not include their Preparer Tax Identification Number on your return.
  • Do not give you a copy of your tax return.
  • Promise a larger than normal tax refund.
  • Charge a percentage of the refund amount as a preparation fee (there should be a flat fee).
  • Add forms to the return you have never filed before.
  • Encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.

Q. What are the “instant” tax rebates I see offered?

In reality, there is no way to immediately receive your refund from the IRS. "Instant" refunds offered by some tax services are often Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). Although they may seem appealing, RALs have large fees and interest rates of up to 37%. Advertisements for RALs must accurately list all associated costs and services charges, as well as the charges for tax preparation and electronic filing.

Q. What is the fastest way to get my tax refund?

Select direct deposit when you efile online. You can track the status of your tax return on the IRS website

Q. I received an email from the IRS, asking for personal information. Is it real?

No; the IRS does not initiate email correspondence with taxpayers. Identity thieves often send official-looking, fake emails informing recipients that they must click on a link that takes them to a website asking for their personal information. All such requests are phishing scams. Report suspected phishing to the IRS

Q. How can I avoid an identity theft tax scam?

There are several warning signs:

  1. Beware email attachments, because legitimate tax companies will rarely ask you to open one.
  2. Emails that mention a tax refund or threaten an audit are often fraudulent attempts to obtain your personal information.
  3. Misspellings, incorrect use of official names, poor grammar, and odd phrasing are indications that a communication is fraudulent.
  4. Taxpayers should ignore unsolicited communications asking for personal and/or financial information, e.g. your name, Social Security Number, bank account number, or credit card number.

Q. How do I know if I am a victim of identity theft?

If multiple tax returns have been filed in your name or the IRS believes you were paid by an employer whom you aren’t familiar with, someone may have used your personal information to submit false tax returns. 

Q. What should I do if I think my identity has been stolen?

Immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For more information, visit www.IRS.gov/identitytheft or call 1-800-908-4490.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Our veterans need protection at home -- from predatory lenders and financial fraud

While many Americans honor our active and retired military on Veterans Day, federal officials are threatening to weaken financial protections for servicemembers, veterans and their families.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Update to How You Can Change Your Experian Credit Freeze PIN | Mike Litt

Our consumer campaign director provides an update to how you can change your Experian credit freeze PIN after a security flaw was discovered two weeks ago.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Hurricane Michael coverage: Data, resources and interview opportunities

With Hurricane Michael expected to make landfall Wednesday in western Florida as a major, Category 3 hurricane, then continue through the Southeast, The Public Interest Network (which includes U.S. PIRG, Environment America, Environment Florida, Environment Georgia, Environment North Carolina and Environment Virginia, among other organizations) is sharing information to help your readers and viewers contextualize the major environmental, health and consumer concerns posed by Michael.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

You Should Change Your Experian Credit Freeze PIN

Our press release recommending consumers change their credit freeze PINs on their Experian credit reports after reports yesterday revealed a security flaw with Experian’s online PIN retrieval page.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Experian Should Reissue New Credit Freeze PINs Immediately

Our statement about Experian's security flaw with its credit freeze PIN retrieval form. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Our veterans need protection at home -- from predatory lenders and financial fraud

While many Americans honor our active and retired military on Veterans Day, federal officials are threatening to weaken financial protections for servicemembers, veterans and their families.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Hurricane Michael coverage: Data, resources and interview opportunities

With Hurricane Michael expected to make landfall Wednesday in western Florida as a major, Category 3 hurricane, then continue through the Southeast, The Public Interest Network (which includes U.S. PIRG, Environment America, Environment Florida, Environment Georgia, Environment North Carolina and Environment Virginia, among other organizations) is sharing information to help your readers and viewers contextualize the major environmental, health and consumer concerns posed by Michael.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

You Should Change Your Experian Credit Freeze PIN

Our press release recommending consumers change their credit freeze PINs on their Experian credit reports after reports yesterday revealed a security flaw with Experian’s online PIN retrieval page.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Experian Should Reissue New Credit Freeze PINs Immediately

Our statement about Experian's security flaw with its credit freeze PIN retrieval form. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach: One Year Later

A year ago tomorrow, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers. To mark the anniversary of that notorious announcement, we are releasing a report containing suggestions on how state and federal authorities and consumers can safeguard personal information.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2017

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

Older consumers are at risk of harm from predatory financial behavior. An analysis of more than 72,000 financial complaints submitted by older consumers (those 62 years of age and older) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB, or Consumer Bureau) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database suggests that mistreatment of older consumers by financial companies is widespread.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Protecting Those Who Serve

This report, the tenth in our series on the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database, is called "Protecting Those Who Serve." It is an analysis of over 44,000 consumer complaints from active-duty servicemembers, veterans and their families. The report also explains the work the CFPB and its Office of Servicemember Affairs does to protect military families in the financial marketplace. Debt problems also are a leading cause of revoking secuirty clearances, which affects military preparedness.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Update to How You Can Change Your Experian Credit Freeze PIN | Mike Litt

Our consumer campaign director provides an update to how you can change your Experian credit freeze PIN after a security flaw was discovered two weeks ago.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Ten year anniversary of safer school supplies: Happy Birthday, CPSIA! | Kara Cook-Schultz

Landmark consumer legislation has had a monumental effect on protecting kids’ health.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG Urges Appeals Court to Block President Trump's Illegal Appointment of Mick Mulvaney as Acting Director of the CFPB | Mike Landis

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument in English v. Trump, a case involving a challenge to President Trump’s appointment of Mick Mulvaney as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). U.S. PIRG, along with nine other consumer advocacy groups, has filed two amicus briefs in the case (one in the trial court and one in the appellate court) in support of the plaintiff, Leandra English, who is the CFPB’s deputy director and, we believe, the rightful acting director of the agency.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.