As we approach the April Federal Tax Return Deadline, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns all of us to be alert to tax scams targeting seniors.
Many seniors are not required to submit tax information because they earn little or no income. Con artists have identified this as an opportunity to part the elderly from what little money they do make.
Some seniors are paying swindlers money to file returns for them in the hopes of claiming benefits that they don’t actually qualify for. The con men then make off with a senior’s money and any important personal information the elder person has provided them with. All of us should choose our tax return preparer wisely – with good reason.
Taxpayers are responsible for all the information on their income tax return. That’s true no matter who prepares the return. Please see the short 2 minute video below prepared by the IRS.
Below are ten tax tips to keep in mind (this information provided by the IRS Tax Tip 2017-05, January 30, 2017.)
1. Check the Preparer’s Qualifications. Use the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications. This tool helps taxpayers find a tax return preparer with the qualifications that they prefer. The Directory is a searchable and sortable listing of preparers with a credentials or filing season qualifications. It includes the name, city, state and zip code of:
- Certified Public Accountants.
- Enrolled Agents.
- Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents.
- Enrolled Actuaries.
- Annual Filing Season Program participants.
For more information, check the Understanding Tax Return Preparer Credentials and Qualifications page.
2. Check the Preparer’s History. Ask the Better Business Bureau about the preparer. Check for disciplinary actions and the license status for credentialed preparers. For CPAs, check with the State Board of Accountancy. For attorneys, check with the State Bar Association. For Enrolled Agents, go to IRS.gov and search for “verify enrolled agent status” or check the Directory.
3. Ask about Service Fees. Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of the refund or who boast bigger refunds than their competition. When inquiring about a preparer’s services and fees, don’t give them tax documents, Social Security numbers, and other information. Some preparers have improperly used this information to file returns without the taxpayer’s permission.
4. Ask for E-file. Taxpayers should make sure their preparer offers IRS e-file. Paid preparers who do taxes for more than 10 clients generally must file electronically. The IRS has safely processed billions of e-filed tax returns.
5. Make Sure the Preparer is Available. Taxpayers may want to contact their preparer after this year’s April 18 due date. Avoid fly-by-night preparers.
6. Provide Records and Receipts. Good preparers will ask to see a taxpayer’s records and receipts. They’ll ask questions to figure the total income, tax deductions, credits, etc. Taxpayers should not use a preparer who will e-file their return using their last pay stub instead of a Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
7. Never Sign a Blank Return. Don’t use a tax preparer who asks a taxpayer to sign a blank tax form.
8. Review Before Signing. Before signing a tax return, review it. Ask questions if something is not clear. Taxpayers should feel comfortable with the accuracy of their return before they sign it. They should also make sure that their refund goes directly to them – not to the preparer’s bank account. Review the routing and bank account number on the completed return.
9. Ensure the Preparer Signs and Includes Their PTIN. All paid tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). By law, paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN.
10. Report Abusive Tax Preparers to the IRS. Most tax return preparers are honest and provide great service to their clients. However, some preparers are dishonest. Report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If a taxpayer suspects a tax preparer filed or changed their return without the taxpayer’s consent, they should file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. Taxpayers can get these forms on IRS.gov any time.
To learn more about tax credits available for elders living in senior housing, or for those you may be caring for in your home, check out Tax Deduction Tips for Assisted Living Costs 2016.
About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.