Deadline to file income tax returns fast approaching
April 15 is the last day to file tax returns, which means taxpayers have just over two weeks left to do so. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has words of wisdom – both tips and warnings – to share with those who are just now beginning the process.
Bill Brunson, media relations for the IRS, said there is a free tax preparation service for those who make less than $52,000 a year called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA. For the elderly specifically, there is the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, or TCE. VITA and TCE sites are usually at libraries, schools or malls, and while there are none in Park City, there are VITA services in Salt Lake City and Provo.
"Free tax help came about in 1969 when Congress mandated to the U.S. that there were issues with the current tax codes that made filing very complex," Brunson said. "Out of that came VITA, which means if you don’t make a lot of money, English is your second language or you are elderly or disabled, you can go to these free tax help sites where staff are trained and tested by the IRS. They will help you file both a federal and state tax return electronically for free."
These sites are set up from February through April 15. However, there is also online assistance for those who cannot make it to one of the help sites. At http://www.IRS.gov, there is a Free File icon where people who make less than $52,000 a year can file their tax returns for free using one of 14 software programs of their choosing.
Those that make more than $52,000 a year must use forms, which means they must have a little bit of knowledge of the form they are using and then fill it out.
Brunson added those making less than $52,000 a year qualify for earned income tax credit, which has been around since 1973. He said if someone had no taxes withheld, that generates a refund, or if that person already has a tax refund on its way, it is going to increase it. If that person owes tax, it will reduce it by the amount of credit they qualify for.
"Average earned income tax credit last year was around $2,300, and the maximum amount this year, per person, is $6,044," Brunson said. "You can be single, married, with children or without, and qualify for that credit, so that is something you need to ask about when filing."
It is important to file a state tax return as well as a federal tax return on time, because due to people missing the April 15 deadline and deciding to simply not file, there is tax refund money waiting.
According to a press released published by the IRS, there is currently $760 million waiting for an estimated 918,600 taxpayers who did not file a federal income tax return for 2010. "Here in Utah, the IRS estimates 6,100 taxpayers did not file a 2010 federal income tax return potentially leaving $4,705,000 on the table."
Brunson said Utahns who did not file their 2010 federal tax return must do so by April 15 in order to get their refund. While there are filing extensions available for 2014 tax returns, there are none for the 2010 federal tax return. This is the last chance for people to receive those tax refunds.
Once a tax return is filed, there is a smartphone application, IRS2Go 4.0, that tracks tax refund status, can request tax records and provide information about free tax preparation providers.
Scams to be aware of
Filing a tax return, state or federal, is complex to begin with, but with additional difficulties like scams, it can feel almost impossible to get it done. Virginia Keys, a special agent with the IRS criminal investigation unit, said there are precautions taxpayers can take in order to avoid the no. 1 tax return fraud: identity theft.
"No one should ever carry their Social Security card in their wallet or purse, because if it is stolen, it is the golden ticket for someone to steal their identity," she said. "They can open credit cards in their name, and do all sorts of things, including and especially filing a tax return."
To protect taxpayers from this sort of fraud, the IRS has created the Identity Protection Specialized Unit. Keys said it is the top priority of the IRS and its criminal investigation unit, and from its inception in 2011 through November 2013, they have stopped 14.6 million suspicious returns and prevented over $50 billion in fraudulent returns from being issued.
Keys added that a new scam involving callers pretending to be from the IRS is sweeping the country, coming in a close second to the prevalence of identity theft. The phone calls can be threatening, and Keys said those are not the IRS’ tactics.
"If a taxpayer happens to get a phone call with someone saying, ‘We are from the IRS, and you owe money. If you don’t pay us right now and send the money to this place, we are going to come arrest or deport you,’ those are not from the IRS," she said. "If I didn’t do what I do for a living and got one of those phone calls, it would be scary. Those are not calls from the IRS, and they should hang up right away."
Advocate for yourself
Taxpayers that have fallen victim to those scams or experience "abuse" from the IRS can contact Tamara L. Angeloff, a local taxpayer advocate for the Taxpayer Advocate Service, in Salt Lake City. She said her primary responsibility is to assist taxpayers who are having problems with a revenue officer or cannot get a tax refund processed.
"More importantly, we help taxpayers who have an extreme hardship and really need their refund, or if they have a levy, to get those released," she said. "If a lien is prohibiting them from being gainfully employed, we can get those for them as well or advocate to get those liens withdrawn as if they were never filed."
Angeloff said her staff includes bilingual speakers in English and Spanish as well as connections to bilingual speakers in many other languages and attorneys they can consult on specialized and international issues. Her office reports to Congress, and she said they report semi-annually to Congress on issues with the IRS and tax codes.
"We just make sure the taxpayers are being treated fairly and that none of the laws have been violated," Angeloff said. "Any time a taxpayer feels like something doesn’t seem right, that is when they should call us. We want to help them out."
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