Avoiding problems when paying taxes

The time and energy spent filling out paperwork can make tax time stressful. Depending on how you file, tax time can also be expensive. If you have questions about filing your taxes, consider our time and money-saving tips. 

Q: How do I file my taxes?

The easiest and fastest way to file your taxes is through the IRS website. The site links to many companies that will efile your federal tax return for free. Some of these services require payment for filing state taxes. 

You can also file by mail. Download the forms from the IRS website or get them from your local library branch. You'll need the Form 1040, 1040EZ, or 1040A depending on the complexity of your return.

Q. Can I get free help to file my taxes?

Yes! If you made $57,000 or less, you may use one of the free efile services available through the IRS website. Many states support free efiling through the state's department of revenue website.

The IRS also sponsors free tax preparation services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Call 1-800-906-9887 to find a VITA site near you, and make sure your tax preparer is accredited by the IRS or your state department of revenue.

The IRS has free tools and a Frequently Asked Questions guide online. You can also call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for individual returns, and 1-800-829-4933 for business returns.

Q. If I make more than $57,000, can I file for free?

Yes. Search online for "free tax preparation" to find Internet-based and volunteer services.

Q. If I pay someone to do my taxes, what should I watch out for?

You could be dealing with an unscrupulous return preparer if they:

  • Do not sign or do not include their Preparer Tax Identification Number on your return.
  • Do not give you a copy of your tax return.
  • Promise a larger than normal tax refund.
  • Charge a percentage of the refund amount as a preparation fee (there should be a flat fee).
  • Add forms to the return you have never filed before.
  • Encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.

Q. What are the “instant” tax rebates I see offered?

In reality, there is no way to immediately receive your refund from the IRS. "Instant" refunds offered by some tax services are often Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). Although they may seem appealing, RALs have large fees and interest rates of up to 37%. Advertisements for RALs must accurately list all associated costs and services charges, as well as the charges for tax preparation and electronic filing.

Q. What is the fastest way to get my tax refund?

Select direct deposit when you efile online. You can track the status of your tax return on the IRS website

Q. I received an email from the IRS, asking for personal information. Is it real?

No; the IRS does not initiate email correspondence with taxpayers. Identity thieves often send official-looking, fake emails informing recipients that they must click on a link that takes them to a website asking for their personal information. All such requests are phishing scams. Report suspected phishing to the IRS

Q. How can I avoid an identity theft tax scam?

There are several warning signs:

  1. Beware email attachments, because legitimate tax companies will rarely ask you to open one.
  2. Emails that mention a tax refund or threaten an audit are often fraudulent attempts to obtain your personal information.
  3. Misspellings, incorrect use of official names, poor grammar, and odd phrasing are indications that a communication is fraudulent.
  4. Taxpayers should ignore unsolicited communications asking for personal and/or financial information, e.g. your name, Social Security Number, bank account number, or credit card number.

Q. How do I know if I am a victim of identity theft?

If multiple tax returns have been filed in your name or the IRS believes you were paid by an employer whom you aren’t familiar with, someone may have used your personal information to submit false tax returns. 

Q. What should I do if I think my identity has been stolen?

Immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For more information, visit www.IRS.gov/identitytheft or call 1-800-908-4490.

Issue updates

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Attorneys general demand online marketplaces end coronavirus price gouging

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not join in the call to the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. A bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), sent a letter today urging the companies -- Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart -- to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during this public health crisis.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Updated Student Resources during COVID-19 Pandemic | Lauren Banister

As the second week of spring break begins, I wanted to update the student resources I sent last week and give you some ways to help others during this unprecedented moment. 

As you know, on March 30th, all classes will resume online and students who live on campus are asked to move out throughout this week. 

Here are a few resources to turn to if you need them:

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Here’s how we’re protecting consumers amid the pandemic | Bay Scoggin

The spread of coronavirus across the country is a serious threat to our health and financial security. We here at TexPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and plenty of hand-washing.

During this time, we must ensure that consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and that everyone has access to what they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of this disease. 

The changes occurring to our daily lives and the whole country is overwhelming. We’ll get through it by working together, so we wanted to offer some information on what TexPIRG is working on.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Student resources during COVID-19 | Lauren Banister

As we enter spring break, I wanted to share some important resources as our campuses transition to online classes. 

This change to our daily lives - and the whole country - may feel overwhelming. We’ll get through it together and so we wanted to offer some information for students who may be especially struggling to adjust to this major transition. 

As you are most likely aware, UT Austin has extended it’s spring break an additional week and will resume classes on March 30th. 

TexPIRG is happy to provide the following resources for students during this time.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Attorneys general demand online marketplaces end coronavirus price gouging

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not join in the call to the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. A bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), sent a letter today urging the companies -- Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart -- to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during this public health crisis.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Coronavirus worry triggers most surgical mask, sanitizer prices to spike at least 50% on Amazon

As the Coronvirus outbreak became more widespread, the price of most of the sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Even one in six products sold directly by Amazon saw prices rise at least 50 percent higher in February

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New investigation: Supermarkets failing to warn public about food recalls

Americans are not hearing about food recalls, and that communication breakdown is having serious repercussions for public health. For example, less than two years ago, people kept getting sick for months after 12 million pounds of Salmonella-contaminated beef was recalled. The pattern has repeated for other recalls even when news outlets have publicized warnings from food safety agencies.

A new report finds that most grocery stores -- which should be some of the best sources for consumers to learn about recalls -- don’t make it easy for consumers to find. TexPIRG Education Fund’s Food Recall Failure: Will your supermarket warn you about hazardous food? scorecard gave a failing grade to 84 percent of the nation’s 26 largest supermarket chains. Chains receiving a failing grade include HEB,and Whole Foods. Shoppers can search for their grocery store on the organization’s website.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Hack doesn’t absolve Equifax of being careless with consumers’ data

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Unsafe Used Cars for Sale

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls. Those vehicles are potentially hazardous to the people who buy them, their passengers and everyone else on the road. Vehicles with defects subject to safety recalls – including malfunctioning Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches – have been responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Driving Into Debt

In much of America, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies – including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies, and meager support for other modes of transportation – have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Fixed for the Holidays

Why Shop Refurbished?

Black Friday prices year-round: You can usually find great deals on used electronics, getting something that’s like-new, but for a sizable discount. Technically, the minute you open a new device, it becomes used, so the difference between a used and new item can be negligible. You can get an item that’s close to new at prices lower than Black Friday deals.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2017

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Updated Student Resources during COVID-19 Pandemic | Lauren Banister

As the second week of spring break begins, I wanted to update the student resources I sent last week and give you some ways to help others during this unprecedented moment. 

As you know, on March 30th, all classes will resume online and students who live on campus are asked to move out throughout this week. 

Here are a few resources to turn to if you need them:

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Here’s how we’re protecting consumers amid the pandemic | Bay Scoggin

The spread of coronavirus across the country is a serious threat to our health and financial security. We here at TexPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and plenty of hand-washing.

During this time, we must ensure that consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and that everyone has access to what they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of this disease. 

The changes occurring to our daily lives and the whole country is overwhelming. We’ll get through it by working together, so we wanted to offer some information on what TexPIRG is working on.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Student resources during COVID-19 | Lauren Banister

As we enter spring break, I wanted to share some important resources as our campuses transition to online classes. 

This change to our daily lives - and the whole country - may feel overwhelming. We’ll get through it together and so we wanted to offer some information for students who may be especially struggling to adjust to this major transition. 

As you are most likely aware, UT Austin has extended it’s spring break an additional week and will resume classes on March 30th. 

TexPIRG is happy to provide the following resources for students during this time.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not join in the call to the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. A bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), sent a letter today urging the companies -- Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart -- to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during this public health crisis.

Blog Post

As the second week of spring break begins, I wanted to update the student resources I sent last week and give you some ways to help others during this unprecedented moment. 

As you know, on March 30th, all classes will resume online and students who live on campus are asked to move out throughout this week. 

Here are a few resources to turn to if you need them:

Blog Post

The spread of coronavirus across the country is a serious threat to our health and financial security. We here at TexPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and plenty of hand-washing.

During this time, we must ensure that consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and that everyone has access to what they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of this disease. 

The changes occurring to our daily lives and the whole country is overwhelming. We’ll get through it by working together, so we wanted to offer some information on what TexPIRG is working on.

Blog Post

As we enter spring break, I wanted to share some important resources as our campuses transition to online classes. 

This change to our daily lives - and the whole country - may feel overwhelming. We’ll get through it together and so we wanted to offer some information for students who may be especially struggling to adjust to this major transition. 

As you are most likely aware, UT Austin has extended it’s spring break an additional week and will resume classes on March 30th. 

TexPIRG is happy to provide the following resources for students during this time.

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