Special Segment: Tips for Taxpayers

April 6, 2010 8:29:17 AM PDT
As the deadline for filing your taxes approaches, taxpayers navigating the process on their own may be in need of some advice. Accountant Patty Patino volunteered to do friends' and relatives' taxes. So she used TurboTax's free program, or so she thought. Patino says she was charged to file a federal tax return.

"They start off saying it's free and once you've completed using the software, that's where they indicate to you that you have to pay a charge," said Patino.

TurboTax has a free program only for very basic returns.

TurboTax's spokewoman wants filers to know there are charges to upgrade for those with investments or are self employed using schedules C,D, E and F.

Free programs are available through the IRS Web site for those making less than $57,000. To access those free file programs you must go through the IRS Web site.

Patino's return did have investments which may have triggered a fee. But she didn't have time to dwell on the issue since it's the busiest time of year for accountants.

Patino is a staff accountant for Lerman Boudart and Associates where clients pay for professional tax guidance. The firm's principal, Irwin Lerman, is giving the public some free advice.

Lerman reminds last minute filers to remember available tax credits like the Making Work Pay credit for those making less that credits working taxpayers making less than $150,000; the American Opportunity credit for those paying college tuition; and energy credits for green improvements to your home.

"A credit is real dollar for dollar and if fact depending on your level of income even if you don't owe tax, this credit could kick out a refundable credit from the government," said Lerman.

If you have a hard time figuring it out Lerman recommends going to the IRS Web site.

"If you don't have a computer at home, you don't have access to it, you can get access to it through your library," said Lerman.

Local taxpayers making less than $50,000 may qualify for free tax assistance in person. Call 311 to find free tax assistance near you.

The Center for Economic Progress offers some of that free assistance in the Chicago area. The center's director of tax services, Rolando Palacios, reminds filers that unemployment benefits are taxable over $2,400. And more taxpayers may qualify for the earned income tax credit depending on income and the number of dependents.

"The tax system is just too complicated for most people to handle on their own," said Palacios. "If you can get help, I would encourage you to do so."

It may be overwhelming, especially at the last minute but experts say do file - whether giving it a stab yourself or getting help especially if you owe. Taxpayers who owe money and don't file face steep penalties.

If you're missing documents, you can use an estimation by checking last year's tax return. If you don't have enough time, experts say file an extension. If you owe and can't pay, you can set up an installment plan and pay what you can to reduce penalties and interest.

Irwin Lerman says those who owe and don't file can face up to 25 percent penalties.