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

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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.

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New Guide Helps Consumers Get Great Deals on Refurbished Electronics

This holiday season, you can pay even less than you would on Black Friday for electronics, if you buy them used and refurbished. “Fixed for the Holidays” helps consumers purchase used items with confidence -- detailing what to buy, how to know if you are getting a good deal and where to shop.

“Not only can you save 20 percent or more by shopping refurbished, buying used products is better for the environment and cuts waste,” added Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “It’s a win-win for the person getting the electronics and his or her community.”

Our guide, published at www.TexPIRG.org/feature/usp/fixed-for-the-holidays has tips that help consumers buy refurbished products.

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Popular toys contain toxics and other hazards

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. TexPIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron in slime products and a failure by Amazon to appropriately label choking hazards. Boron can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues.

 

“No one should worry about whether or not the toy they’re buying is toxic or dangerous. But in 2018, we’re still finding hazards in some of the most popular toys. Toy manufacturers must do better to ensure their products are safe before they end up in children’s hands and mouths,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Fiat Chrysler Settlement Fails to Protect Consumers

While we are glad that Fiat Chrysler is paying something for damaging the health of Americans and deceiving customers, this settlement does not go far enough. It neither ensures these violations of the public trust won’t happen again nor makes consumers whole.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

New Guide Helps Consumers Get Great Deals on Refurbished Electronics

This holiday season, you can pay even less than you would on Black Friday for electronics, if you buy them used and refurbished. “Fixed for the Holidays” helps consumers purchase used items with confidence -- detailing what to buy, how to know if you are getting a good deal and where to shop.

“Not only can you save 20 percent or more by shopping refurbished, buying used products is better for the environment and cuts waste,” added Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “It’s a win-win for the person getting the electronics and his or her community.”

Our guide, published at www.TexPIRG.org/feature/usp/fixed-for-the-holidays has tips that help consumers buy refurbished products.

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

Popular toys contain toxics and other hazards

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. TexPIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron in slime products and a failure by Amazon to appropriately label choking hazards. Boron can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues.

 

“No one should worry about whether or not the toy they’re buying is toxic or dangerous. But in 2018, we’re still finding hazards in some of the most popular toys. Toy manufacturers must do better to ensure their products are safe before they end up in children’s hands and mouths,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director.

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

Popular toys contain toxics and other hazards

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. U.S. PIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues, in slime products as well as fining that Amazon failed to appropriately label choking hazards.

> Keep Reading
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U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

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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
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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). 

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Lead In Fidget Spinners

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Predatory Loans & Predatory Loan Complaints

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ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

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

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30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

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