You know tax season has begun when your mailbox contains W-2s, 1099s and lots of other tax-related documents needed for filing annual state and federal income tax returns.
While many of us dread preparing our taxes, it’s one of those necessary tasks that we have to get through every year. At least those receiving tax refunds have something to look forward to! But, there is some good tax news this year because the filing deadline has been extended for three days and you have until April 18, 2017 at midnight to get your taxes filed.
We don’t recommend you wait until the last minute, though. Filing early is highly recommended. One of the main reasons is to avoid identity theft. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), identity theft has become a big problem and criminals file fraudulent tax returns and collect refunds in your name leaving you with a mess to clean up. Early filing will prevent this.
Starting early also gives you more time to prepare your returns so you can make sure they are accurate. Plus, you’ll get your refund earlier and if you do have to pay, you’ll have more time to plan for it.
Many wonder whether it’s better to prepare those tax forms themselves or hire a professional. It usually depends on how complicated your finances and returns are. Either way, there is some homework you’ll need to do to keep your stress level down and to complete your filing on time.
- Don’t wait until the last minute.
- Collect needed documents in advance.
- Review your documents to be sure you have everything you need and get what is missing.
- Determine if you’ll file online or by mail.
- Decide if you’ll prepare your tax returns yourself, use a computer tax program or have a tax preparer do it for you.
- Before choosing a professional, interview them over the phone or in person to verify their experience and ask any other questions you may have. Then, make an appointment and check their license and credentials.
According to the California Tax Education Council (CTEC) website, California professionals who can charge a fee to prepare tax returns must be licensed as an attorney or certified public accountant (CPA); or be a CTEC-registered tax preparer or an enrolled agent.
CTEC states that “choosing a tax preparer who is not one of those four professionals may prevent you from legal recourse against fraud. It may also increase your chances for additional taxes, interest and fines.”
Check the license
CPA: If you choose a CPA to prepare your taxes, the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) encourages you to check the status of a CPA’s license on their website. Or call the board at (916) 263-3680. You can also find any public enforcement documents related to a California CPA here.
Attorney: To verify the license of an attorney, go to the California Bar Association website.
Tax Preparer and Enrolled Agent: To verify that a tax preparer or enrolled agent is certified, go the California Tax Education Council website.
The CBA’s Consumer Assistance Booklet has helpful tax information and can be viewed here on their website.
If you need more information on your federal taxes, check the IRS website at www.irs.gov.
Take some time now to get those tax returns ready and avoid the headaches and stress of waiting until the last minute.