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

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

High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WITI FOX6 News in Milwaukee recently tested certain fidget spinners for lead and according to the lab results, four fidget spinners bought from high-profile online and retail stores contained alarmingly high levels of lead. One fidget spinner contained a part that was found to be more than 400 times the legal limit for lead. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Offers Incomplete Protection After Breach: Advocates Suggest What Else Consumers Can Do

Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach Puts Millions at Risk of New ID Theft

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on the recently announced Equifax data breach.

> Keep Reading

Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Yahoo Data Breach Presents Opportunity for Strong Response

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on the latest announced Yahoo data breach.

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

Consumer Advocates Concerned By Court Ruling Overturning Ban on High-Powered Magnets

We've joined leading consumer and pediatrician organizations in a joint news release with a sharp critique of a U.S. appellate court decision overturning a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ban on the sale of high-powered small magnets (some as small as BBs) that pose a severe ingestion problem for children and youth. As our Trouble In Toyland report released on November 22 pointed out: "Nearly 80 percent of high-powered magnet ingestions require invasive medical intervention, either through an endoscopy, surgery, or both. In comparison, only 10 to 20 percent of other foreign body ingestions require endoscopic intervention and almost none require surgery."

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

We oppose merger between giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable | Ed Mierzwinski

Along with a number of state PIRGs, we have joined the Consumer Federation of America in a petition to deny the merger of cable/Internet giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable. The petition argues that the FCC must deny the merger, which would perpetuate unrestrained cable price increases, allow terrible service to deteriorate further and stifle innovation.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Wall Street launches "pants-on-fire" attack on CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

The Financial Services Roundtable, a powerful Wall Street lobby that spends millions of dollars annually lobbying on behalf of its big Wall Street bank members has launched a deceptive social media campaign against expansion of the CFPB's successful public consumer complaint database. And like much of what you read on the Internet, most of what they say simply isn't true.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

new CFPB mortgage rules and tools available | Ed Mierzwinski

CFPB Director Rich Cordray appears on The Daily Show tonight Wednesday to talk about CFPB's new mortgage lending and servicing rules that take effect Friday, 10 January. Read on to find out more about the rules and also about the many self-help tools the CFPB has created to help homebuyers and homeowners protect themselves.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Retailers appeal swipe fee settlement with Visa/Mastercard | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, big retailers filed an appeal of last month's announced final settlement order in an antitrust case involving price-fixing by Visa and Mastercard. PIRG backs the merchants because non-negotiable swipe fees force all consumers, including cash customers, to pay more at the store and more at the pump.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB getting results for consumers this week | Ed Mierzwinski

Last week, a senior bank industry lawyer said he was "amazed" at the amount of work the CFPB had accomplished "in such a short amount of time." This week, the CFPB stepped up its game another notch, when it returned $34 million to consumers who'd been deceived by a medical debt credit card pitched by their doctors and dentists and their receptionists and also took a big step toward ending forced arbitration in consumer contracts. Had any victims of the medical credit card wanted to go to court because they'd been ripped off, they couldn't, since the small print on that card, like the small print on most others, would send them instead to arbitration, no better than a kangaroo court.

> 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.