By CPT Caitlin Chiaramonte, Fort Benning Tax CenterFebruary 25, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - If you are considering having your taxes prepared by a paid preparer offpost there are some things you may want to consider to ensure your taxes are done correctly.
The tax preparation industry is still fairly unregulated - although the Internal Revenue Service has made a serious effort to crack down on fraud. Some commercial preparers are only concerned with producing large refunds for their clients, even if these refunds are not legal.
Avoid return preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers. Find out what the service fees are before the return is prepared. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of refund they can produce for you. This gives them an incentive to give you credits or deductions you are not entitled to claim.
If you believe you are receiving credits or deductions you are not entitled to, confront your preparer. Last year, the IRS investigated scams in the off-post area for filing a Schedule C tax form, which allowed taxpayers to take business deductions. The deductions reduce taxable income and allow for higher refunds in some cases.
However, to qualify for these deductions, the taxpayer must own a business. There are specific rules as to what constitutes a business, and it is unusual for military filers to qualify for these deductions.
Tax refund overpayments are subject to audit by the IRS. If the IRS discovers the overpayment, it will send a notice to the taxpayer demanding payment immediately.
The IRS will charge interest and penalties on the amount owed - and the penalties and interest rates can soar as high as 25 percent of the tax owed. In addition to high penalties and interest, the IRS has the power to garnish wages. Therefore, it is in a taxpayer's best interest to file taxes properly and to claim only credits or deductions that the taxpayer is entitled to claim.
The most reputable preparers will request identification, including a driver's license or military ID and social security card, to ensure the return is prepared for the correct person using the right Social Security number.
The preparer should ask to see your records and receipts, and ask you several questions to determine your filing status and income. They will ask you to justify claimed expenses, deductions and credits. A reputable tax professional will sign your tax return and provide you with a copy of your records. Never sign a blank tax form and avoid any preparer that asks you to do so.
Remember, you are legally responsible for what is on your tax return even if someone else prepares it. Most off-post tax offices are legitimate and prepare quality returns, but you should ask around. Do you know anyone else that has used this tax preparer in the past' Were they satisfied with the service' Did they have any problems with their return'
Regardless of where you have your return prepared take the time to look over every entry on your return, as well as attached schedules, and make sure you understand each entry before submitting the return to the IRS. If you have questions, ask the preparer.
When you sign your tax return, you are verifying that you have reviewed the return and are entitled to claim the credits and deductions listed. You, as the taxpayer, are responsible for the accuracy of all entries made on your tax return, whether you prepare the return yourself or use a tax preparer.
Military ID cardholders are eligible to use the Fort Benning Tax Center, located in Brown Hall, 7250 Ingersoll St., for free.
The Tax Center will file your taxes electronically. Appointments with trained professionals are available on a walk-in basis. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday.
For more information, call 706-545-4267.
What will the Tax Center do' Help you prepare your taxes, then file them electronically.
Who can use the Tax Center' All military ID cardholders.
Is there a fee' No.
Who works at the Tax Center' Soldiers and civilians trained under the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Where is it located' Inside Brown Hall, Building 328, 7250 Ingersoll St. (across from Burger King).
What are the hours' 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, except Thursday, when it's open 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
How can I get in touch' Call 706-545-4267.