Did you know that our tax code is over four million words long, or more than 10 times the size of the Bible? With roughly 4,400 changes in the last decade, our complex code makes filing taxes a daunting task for millions of Americans each year. To avoid missing out on a tax credit or making a mistake that would trigger a fine, or worse, an audit, Americans end up spending some $160 billion complying and lose 6 billion hours working through the rules and regulations of the code annually.
Fortunately, there are tax assistance programs and resources that can help you navigate the burdensome tax code. With less than two weeks until your tax returns are due, make sure you know about these helpful programs as you file. For individuals who make $58,000 or less, the Free File Program provides free access to online tax preparation through some of the most well-known tax software companies like TurboTax and HR Block. Over 100 million taxpayers are eligible to benefit from this service which is why I introduced legislation to make the Free File Program permanent. It is a win-win for everyone – taxpayers have already saved a total of $1.1 billion since the program’s start in 2003 while costing the federal government nothing.
There are also programs that provide in-person help to Americans that qualify. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program sets up free tax return preparation between certified volunteers and taxpayers making $52,000 or less. Working with one of these professionals can help individuals navigate the tax code, and potentially save hundreds of dollars in the process. For taxpayers 60 years old or older, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program provides a similar service to VITA, matching qualified volunteers who are experts in pension and retirement issues with older Americans. VITA and TCE sites can be found all over the Sixth District – from Naperville to Barrington – and can also be found by calling 800-906-9887 and 888-227-7669, respectively.
This tax season, it is important to take caution and be wary of tax-related scams. It is incredibly easy for a fraudster to file a fake tax return – for simple scams, all they need is your Social Security Number and name. For this reason, identity theft and other fraud schemes have spiked in the past year. But there are ways to protect yourself: make sure you know and trust a person before you give them personal information, including your tax preparer; check your credit score regularly; and if you are ready to file online, make sure that you are not using an open, unprotected Wi-Fi connection.
Fake communications from the IRS are another common form of scam. The IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer electronically, only through the mail. If you do receive a notice in the mail from the IRS that reports your wages, benefits or any other sensitive information incorrectly, or if you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, extension 245, as soon as possible.
April 15 is less than two weeks away, so make sure you’re prepared. Take time to double-check all the paperwork before singing anything. And don’t forget to file your return – in 2010 alone, the IRS reported a shocking $760 million in unclaimed refunds. For people who feel they cannot file by the deadline, request a filing extension to avoid fines. If a refund is expected, the fastest way to receive it is to file tax returns online and use the direct deposit option.
For more tips and resources, feel free to contact my office at 2700 International Drive, Suite 304, West Chicago, IL 60185, or by calling 630-232-0006.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, represents Illinois' 6th District