January 31st marks the beginning of this year’s tax season…. It may seem a little later than usual, that’s because it is! Due to 2013’s Government Shutdown, the IRS has delayed its official opening of tax season by about ten days. But you can still get started on preparing your tax return.
While preparing your own taxes can seem a little overwhelming, online tax preparation has made it easier than you think. Last year 83% of returns were filed online, if you’re going to follow suit, make sure your tax information is safe by following these steps:
1. Update your computer’s security features. Check your internet settings to make sure your pop-up blocker is on. Run a security scan on your hard drive before you start entering your personal information.
2. Use a secure network. Never do your taxes or enter any personal information while you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
3. Verify the website you are using is secure. Check the web address to make sure it begins with https:// (rather than http://). Most internet browsers will also indicate a site has been determined safe with a lock icon.
4. Protect your account. When setting up your account for online tax preparation, choose a strong password that is:
Long: at least 8 characters
Complex: include capital and lowercase, numbers, special characters, etc.
Different: change up your passwords from your social media or email logins
If you decide online tax preparation is not right for you here are tips on choosing on professional tax preparer:
1. Start early. The earlier you start, the more options you will have. Tax preparers tend to get busier as tax season goes on. Starting early also means you’ll have more time to get all the information your preparer needs. Crunch time is not the time to be looking for receipts in an old shoebox. Filing early also means you’ll get your refund earlier since the IRS won’t be as busy compared to April.
2. Check their history.
¨ Log on to bbb.org to view their Business Review where you can find any complaints they may have, their grade, length in business, see if their accredited, etc.
¨ Verify their PTIN. By law, all paid tax preparers must have an IRS-issued tax preparer identification number.
¨ Check other resources: California Board of Accountancy, California Tax Education Council, IRS Office of Professional Responsibility, and State Bar Association should all have information on tax preparers.
3. Choose a preparer that uses e-file. E-filing is faster and more secure. Most preparers take advantage of this IRS service, but make sure before you start the process.
4. Make sure the preparer is accessible. You want to be able to know how to get a hold of your tax preparer, even after you’ve submitted your return.
More quick tips:
¨ Never sign a blank return
¨ Review the information before signing and submitting
¨ Keep a copy and all statements
¨ Tax preparers must sign the return
¨ Find out what the tax preparer or program costs and what is included (audit help, State & Federal returns, etc.)
¨ If you suspect tax fraud, contact the BBB at 858.637.6199 and report it to the IRS.
For more tips, visit bbb.org.