Guest Blog Post by Janet Hawkins, Community Action Coordinator, Department of County Human Services
It's tax time again! And lots of consumers go into the marketplace looking for commercial tax preparation services or expensive on-line software for completing their tax forms. Unfortunately, it’s definitely a buyer beware situation out there.
Don’t pay for expensive tax preparation software you may not need. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers free tax preparation software to individuals whose income is less than $58,000. Visit the IRS website at irs.gov to learn more about accessing the brand-name software that can be downloaded for e-filing.
Be sure to avoid tax preparation companies that charge high fees or emphasize predatory tax refund offers. The National Consumer Law Center’s “2013 Report on Tax-Time Financial Products” reports that over 80% of American households receive a tax refund when they file their tax returns. This high refund rate has generated an industry geared toward taking advantage of low-income, working households. Many tax preparation companies have developed financial products like “refund anticipation” checks or loans as well as tax refund buying schemes to prey upon taxpayers who need immediate cash. Fees or interest charges for these financial services or products, which are typically deducted from the taxpayer’s refund, may end up costing hundreds of dollars.
The National Consumer Law Center report also documents classic “bait and switch” practices like the company that charged twice as much for their services as had been advertised to consumers. Households with bank accounts are much better off to forgo the refund anticipation checks or refund buying schemes and wait for the IRS to electronically deposit their tax refund. The IRS refunds normally take only 21 days or less from the date of e-filing your tax return.
What’s a taxpayer to do? There are two reliable options for receiving free tax assistance in Multnomah County.
- CASH Oregon is a non-profit organization that provides free tax assistance to consumers. Worried about quality? Their volunteer tax preparers are IRS trained and certified. Visit their website to learn more: www.cashoregon.org
- AARP Tax-Aide serves people of all ages. They have a contract with IRS to provide tax preparation services in library branches, community centers, and other locations. Their volunteer preparers are also IRS trained and certified. Call AARP at 1-888-227-7669 to find a free tax preparation site near you or visit www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide to learn more.
Need more information on local tax preparation resources? Contact 211info, a local information and referral service, by calling 2-1-1. 211’s staff can provide more details on local services.