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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – If you are like most of America you have yet to file your taxes. You have less than a month to do it. Before you pull your hair out trying to figure out what you owe or what the government owes you, you may want to consider having an expert do your taxes.
We found a way most of you can have them done for free. Yes, free. You may even get a bigger refund than in the past.
Earlier this month Omar Hansborough walked into an office carrying a box full of all his financial documents. He may be one of the more organized people you’ll meet. He keeps all his records and says he files tax returns every year on-time because his refund matters.
“I’m a single parent dad. I’m raising twin 4-year-old girls. As a man raising girls you should know I’m way out of my element,” Hansborough said. So last year when his refund was stolen due to identity theft it hurt. “I’ve been living pillar to post.”
A year later he’s still trying to get the refund. “I don’t want them to do it again”
To avoid the same thing from happening again, he went to the United Way Center for Financial Stability. It’s one of the best kept secrets in tax preparation, where a qualified financial expert will do your taxes for free.
Lars Gilberts who runs the center explains where the program came from.
“It was setup by the IRS several decades ago as a way to help people to be able to take control of their taxes. So they wouldn’t get taken advantage of,” said Gilberts.
Families who make less than $52,000 can step into any of the thousands of offices across the U.S. Families who make up to $58,000 also have the option to use the service online.
“Over 80% of Miami, South Florida qualify,” Gilberts said. Yet less than 1% of South Florida actually uses the service. Gilberts explained, “People are scared of taxes. There is a lot of misinformation. We learn things from our friends and our family so people often share misinformation with each other.”
He believes many tax prep businesses aren’t helping either.
“We have a lot of people standing out on the corners scaring people. We have ads. Millions of dollars put on ads that you can lose a billion dollars if you do your own taxes. Trying to scare people into paying someone else to give them advice that is available to them for free,” said Gilberts.
Taking your taxes to a fly-by-night operation can cost you more than just that fee they are charging. If they file your taxes wrong – you are the one on the hook. “You may actually get disqualified in the future for up to 10 years. Or they could audit you and you have to pay penalties and fines. Or you could even go to the jail because people are lying on your behalf.” Gilberts said. And for those who go it alone you may be losing money.
For example, Gilberts pointed to a semi-new exemption.
“If you are going to school and you don’t have a job you can actually qualify for a refund based on the tuition that your paying,” Gilberts said.
In some cases people get back a third of their entire year’s salary. It’s life changing. The United Way free service goes beyond just getting that money back, but helping you do more with it. “We could always do more with more but what do we do with what we have. How do we build our credit. How do we use our resources to own a home? How do we make the most of the life that we have to achieve our own personal goals.” Gilbert said.
The free IRS tax prep program is called Voluntary Income Tax Assistance or VITA. And it’s available in your community, not just through United Way.
For more information click here: www.Miamifinancialstability.org or call 211.
Also the United Way Center for Financial Stability has provided the following information to help you avoid scams and get more of your refund back.
o Buy here pay here/use your last pay stub – easy to make small errors that can result in having to amend your return etc
o Get $1ks – often misleading and many will commit fraud on the clients behalf without them even knowing sometimes
o Fake calls or e-mails from the IRSâ€¦ asking for SSN or personal info – IRS and reputable people wont do that
o Claiming you or your children on their returns
o Don’t carry your SS card!
o File early and electronically
o Do direct deposit into your own bank
o Don’t act on fear
o Protect your kid’s social
o Go to a reputable place – VITA sites are certified, have quality reviews and are inspected by various IRS depts
o Don’t pay, do it yourself
o Don’t pay a % of your return or a fee to get it sooner
o Check credit at least every year
o Cheating or letting someone cheat for you has serious consequences
o Filing status you don’t qualify
o False claiming EITC or grossly negligent – 2-10 year ban on getting it
o Can pay penalties, interest and even go to jail
o There are other supports to help
o VITA sites can help
o Tax Payer Advocate
o Legal Services of Greater Miami – legal help regarding taxes
o Self-prep anywhere
o Find the nearest free IRS certified VITA site – link/211
o 8 tips for parents – http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Eight-Tax-Savers-for-Parents
o ID theft support – http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection or 1-800-908-4490