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Reminder to Tax Payers: FREE Tax Prep is Still Available
CLEVELAND – The Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs urges low- to moderate-income consumers to make sure they get their full tax refund by making use of free tax prep services available throughout Cuyahoga County. The reminder comes during National Consumer Protection Week.
These sites, staffed by IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers, offer consumers one-on-one help preparing their taxes and claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, a refundable tax credit available to working people with or without children.
The credits can return up to $6,000 to families – as long as they don’t lose a chunk of the credit to tax prep fees.
“Anyone can set up shop and offer to do your taxes, but there’s no formal training required across the industry,” said Sheryl Harris, director of the county’s Consumer Affairs Department. “In some cases, IRS-certified volunteers who staff EITC sites may have more training than the paid preparers working at pop-up tax prep stores.”
EITC sites staffed by trained volunteers offer appointments or serve walk-ins.
Find a free tax prep site near you, and find out which documents to bring, by visiting http://www.refundohio.org/ or by calling 2-1-1.
Consumers who choose to visit paid preparers should safeguard their earnings by:
- Visiting only reputable tax preparation companies. (Check with the BBB http://www.bbb.org/cleveland/ to see a company’s rating. “The absence of a report may indicate the company hasn’t been around long.” Harris warned.
- Making sure the paid preparer they use is a licensed professional or has voluntarily completed training with the IRS. A searchable database is available through the IRS athttp://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf
- Getting a firm, written quote for the tax-prep service before they pay.
- Declining offers to marginally speed up refunds through “pre-funds” or “advances,” which may result in surprise fees or route refunds through third-party companies consumers don’t know about.
- Creating a bank or credit union account so they can have tax refunds direct-deposited.
- Carefully investigating the fees tied to prepaid cards that paid tax preparers recommend. Some cards gouge consumers trying to access their own money.
- Walking out on preparers who offer to secure refunds higher than other preparers can get, who offer to prepare returns without your W-2 or other documents.
Remember, you are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of your tax returns.
The Department of Consumer Affairs’ mission is to make sure people who live or shop in Cuyahoga County get what they pay for.