Shailana Dunn-Wall (she/her/hers), Legal Aid Tax Law Project Fellowship Staff Attorney, and Maria Smith, Legal Aid of Nebraska Intern, are the authors of this article.
It’s tax season again, and taxpayers have many options when preparing their taxes. However, not all tax professionals are certified, so it is important to carefully choose when trusting a person or firm with sensitive tax and financial information. When finding your tax preparer, take certain steps to ensure reliability: always check the tax preparer’s credentials, qualifications, types of services they provide. Carefully choosing a tax preparer means finding people who are at least enrolled agents licensed by the IRS, certified public accountants licensed by state boards of accountancy, or hold a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
A PTIN is a number assigned to a tax preparer by the IRS. They must sign and include this number on the return. If a tax preparer does not sign the returner on the “preparer” line and include their PTIN, they may not be qualified to prepare returns for others. An unqualified tax preparer may not help the taxpayer get all of the credits they are entitled to or may include credits the taxpayer does not qualify for, resulting in a costly audit and a delay in receiving their refund. Even worse, the preparer may use the taxpayer’s sensitive information, such as their name and social security number, to steal their identity.
Finding a reputable tax preparer has been made easy with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA The IRS trains VITA volunteer tax preparers to maximize a taxpayer’s return.
You may be eligible for free VITA tax preparation if you make $58,000 or less, are a person with disabilities, are elderly, or are a limited English-speaking taxpayer.
If you think you might qualify for VITA’s services, you can check for a VITA site near you at https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ or by calling 211.
The Omaha Earned Income Tax Coalition is the only year-round VITA site serving the state of Nebraska. They also promote the VITA program and offer free quality tax preparation through trained volunteers and other services such as bank accounts, credit reports, saving programs, and financial education. Individuals can learn more about the Coalition or schedule an appointment at https://www.fhasinc.org/tax-services.html.
There are still some low-cost options available for taxpayers who make slightly too much to qualify for VITA services. If the taxpayer feels comfortable with technology and has an annual income below $73,000, they can use the IRS’ “Free File” options. Free File is a program that partners the IRS with electronic tax preparation services to provide free federal filing for any taxpayer whose income is below $73,000. (There may still be a cost to file state returns with those services). To see which Free File options you qualify for, visit https://apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile.
Legal Aid of Nebraska encourages everyone who can file to do so electronically so the return (and refund) can be processed more quickly.
With the tax benefits included in the American Rescue Plan Act, many people who are not generally eligible for tax refunds are this year. Check out our posts on the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Advanced Child Tax Credit to learn more.
Federal taxes are due on April 18, 2022 and Nebraska state taxes are due April 15, 2022. If you need an extension, you can learn how to apply for one here: https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/extension-of-time-to-file-your-tax-return/. If you are being audited or have other tax issues, you can contact Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic here.