Prepping for Tax PreparationWed, Feb 4, 2015
Many times what makes Tax Day stressful is the procrastination of waiting to prepare those returns until the day they are due. Consumers should decide now how they will go about preparing tax returns — either prepare their own or seek assistance from a tax-preparation service.
Every year there seem to be more regulations and forms related to tax filing. Some Arkansas consumers may choose to seek assistance with tax preparations rather than crunching numbers and reviewing documents themselves.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to encourage Arkansans to plan in advance how they will file their returns and to inform consumers about some of the free tax preparation options available.
“Remember: Nothing prepares us more than being prepared,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Although some Arkansans file their own taxes without a problem, others may find the tax code to be too complex and tax-preparation services might be a better fit. While some of these services are costly, there are a number of free file programs available that are convenient and easy to use.”
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers its Free File electronic tax filing program to all taxpayers through brand-name software or online forms. Taxpayers who earned less than $58,000 in adjusted gross income in 2014 are eligible to receive free online filing help. Visit www.irs.gov for more information.
The IRS also offers free, in-person tax filing and preparation assistance to qualified individuals through its Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs. The VITA program is available for those earning less than $52,000 a year as well as for members of the U.S. Armed Forces. VITA locations are staffed with trained volunteers in local community centers, libraries, and schools. Consumers may call (800) 906-9887 to find the nearest VITA location or visit the IRS website. The TCE program provides free assistance to those 60 years of age and older. Most TCE sites are operated through the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide Program. For more information or to find the nearest TCE location, visit http://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/ or call (888) 227-7669.
Consumers who choose to pay for help from commercial tax prep providers should keep these tips in mind:
- Shop around as cost may vary between providers.
- Choose a well-qualified, reputable tax preparer; taxpayers themselves are ultimately responsible for all information provided to the IRS.
- Read, review, and ask the tax preparer about any entries that may be difficult to understand before documents are filed.
- Ask whether the tax preparer has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which is issued by the IRS.
- Ask if the business is open year-round in case there are follow-up questions regarding a return.
Filing taxes is not optional, so spend some time now to prepare and file to make your 2015 Tax Day a little less stressful.
For more information on tax preparation, please visit the Consumer Protection Division at www.ArkansasAG.gov or call the division hotline at (800) 482-8982.
Beware of Refund-Anticipation ProductsWed, Jan 28, 2015
Paying off bills, setting money aside for a future vacation or building up savings are just a few examples of what many consumers plan to do with a tax refund, if they expect to receive one. Few, if any, have carved out plans to give a large portion of the refund right back to a tax preparer or financial institution.
Unfortunately, millions of American taxpayers do exactly that each year when they obtain “rapid” refund products such as Refund Anticipation Checks (RACs) or Bonus Deposit Checks. RACs are essentially high-interest loans which must be repaid by your actual tax return and in many instances are deducted directly from refund proceeds. Thus, consumers are essentially borrowing and paying interest on their own money, and sometimes the refund is less than the loan amount that needs to be repaid.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert so Arkansans will beware of refund-anticipation products.
“Nobody wants to wait on money that is owed to them and that they know is coming, but I encourage consumers to be wary of promises that are too good to be true,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Arkansas consumers should exercise patience as they wait on their tax refund to arrive. While the offer of extra cash or an immediate tax refund can be tempting, it should not sway consumers from the risk.”
RAC lending has increased to an estimated 21 million taxpayers in 2013 and 21.6 million in 2014 according to the National Consumer Law Center.
RACs may be offered under other names, such as “instant refund” or “fast refund.” Some include an option for a taxpayers refund to be loaded on a prepaid debit card.
Companies that do offer these or similar products are required to comply with the Arkansas Refund Anticipation Loan Act. The Act, enacted in 2009, requires tax preparers to make some specific disclosures if they offer refund-anticipation product services.
Those tax preparers must prominently display a schedule of fees for the products. They must provide consumers with a printed notice that lists any and all conditions related to the RAC or other products. Also, the preparer is prohibited by law from charging any fees in addition to those assessed by a lender unless the fees are charged to all tax-preparation customers.
Consumers should be cautious if a product offers instant refunds or has add-on fees.
To avoid the high costs associated with refund-anticipation products, consumers should utilize the IRS Free File program. Everyone is eligible to file for free, but taxpayers who earned less than $57,000 in adjusted gross income can file for free using brand-name tax software. The Free File program was available starting Jan. 17, and the IRS begins accepting returns on Jan. 31.
Consumers looking to expedite their refund should consider e-filing. Taxpayers who e-file usually receive their refund within 8 to 21 days and the refund is direct deposited into their bank account. For those without a bank account, the refund can be direct deposited to a prepaid card.
For more information on “rapid” refund products or help with tax preparation, please visit www.irs.gov or go to the Attorney General’s website and visit the Consumer Protection Division at www.ArkansasAG.gov.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division hotline is (800) 482-8982.
We are Here to HelpWed, Jan 21, 2015
Arkansans engage in various transactions every day. From paying electric bills to purchasing toys and electronics, we all have something in common – we are all consumers. For the most part, these purchases occur with no issue, but when problems arise, the dedicated employees in the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office are here to help.
It is the goal of the Attorney General’s Office to help Arkansans resolve these consumer hitches as expeditiously as possible and with a positive resolution. The Consumer Protection Division put its experience to work for you, starting with the moment you call the office. Four front-line phone counselors stand ready to answer your call. The phone counselors are specifically trained to assist and advise consumers, no matter the situation. Counselors will also know how to direct you to resources on the Internet or to other agencies that may offer assistance. Most importantly, our phone counselors can help consumers file complaints with our office.
Newly inaugurated Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to remind Arkansans that the Attorney General’s Office is here to protect consumers. A change in administration will not change that mission – it will only enhance it.
“The Consumer Protection Division helps resolve thousands of complaints every year,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Maybe you need help navigating a complicated vehicle purchase or you are being scammed on your cell phone bill. The dedicated counselors, investigators and assistant attorneys general of this division are ready to help. I will look at ways to enhance this division so that Arkansans receive the highest possible service and are protected from deceptive businesses and scam artists.”
The Consumer Protection team can be contacted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Our consumer website, www.gotyourbackarkansas.org, is always available and accessible with helpful tips.
The goal of the Consumer Protection Division is to help you obtain a successful resolution to your consumer complaints. If you are having a problem, please contact our office – we are here to help!