You are hereHome >
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.
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.
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:
- Beware email attachments, because legitimate tax companies will rarely ask you to open one.
- Emails that mention a tax refund or threaten an audit are often fraudulent attempts to obtain your personal information.
- Misspellings, incorrect use of official names, poor grammar, and odd phrasing are indications that a communication is fraudulent.
- 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.
In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.
Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission
Today, in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) request for information (RFI) on harmful “junk fees,” the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund submitted comments exposing how financial service giants and universities are plaguing postsecondary students with unexpected, unavoidable, and hugely expensive charges on a range of financial products.
Report on issues with "Buy Now, Pay Later" financing plans.
Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress.
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.
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.