April is around the corner: before you know it, your taxes will be due. Few people (except maybe accountants) would argue that tax season is any fun. The majority of us welcome the rebate check, but dread investing time in doing our taxes. Filling out paper forms takes too long, and hiring someone means less of that rebate can go in the college fund. Lucky for us, our personal computers can help ease the pain.
More and more Americans are filing their taxes electronically. In fact, according to the IRS, 80% of Americans file their taxes electronically. Websites from the IRS to the CPA Board allow time-constrained people to file their taxes quickly and comfortably at low or no cost.
In addition to e-filing's headache-saving simplicity and obvious environmental benefits, it can also expedite the refund process. According to the IRS, e-filers who choose direct deposit can receive their refund in as few as 10 days ÔÇô which quickly puts your money in the bank! Returns are often more accurate as well, since additional checks are built into the software, helping to reduce the possibility of an error letter from the IRS.
Before you get online and start slinging your financials around, Geek Squad offers the following quick tax tips to help ensure that you receive many happy returns while minimizing the chance that you'll get scammed.
1. Plan Ahead: PCs and laptops come standard with software that rarely gets activated, but can make life run more smoothly. From Intuit's Quicken to Microsoft's Money, there are several tools that can help you e-file: If self-employed, calendar your tax year in advance so that quarterly payments and forms are submitted on time. You can even easily program e-mail or calendar reminders so that you don't miss a deadline.
Catalog receipts and deductions via spreadsheets throughout the year so that tax time is much less stressful. Shoeboxed (iPhone and Android, free) is a great organizational tool for receipts. Just snap pictures of your receipts, and the app will automatically file them on your phone. Come tax time you can email yourself an expense report when it is time to file your return. Utilize financial software that speaks directly to your bank, making checkbook balancing, bill paying and record-keeping much simpler.
2. Head to the Source: www.irs.gov. Beware of imposter sites like www.irs.com or www.irs.net, which could exploit your personal information if you enter it. The free and fast www.irs.gov provides a Tax Help Center, Personal Finance Center and a Tax Forms Center, offering tips on everything from back tax help to tax payment plans to online forms. You can also use the IRS' official app - IRS2GO (iPhone and Android, free). The app allows you to securely check the filing status of your return and sign up to get daily tax tips sent right to your inbox.
3. Do Some Research: www.taxsites.com. This site offers consumer product reviews and free demos on tax preparation software for individuals, families and business professionals. It's always safer to go with software whose name you're familiar with. If you have any software questions or need help installing it on your computer, contact the Geek Squad at 1-800 GEEK SQUAD, geeksquad.com or at any Best Buy store. If you decide to hire a tax preparer, you can also do a simple Google search to find information on whether your tax preparer is licensed and if they have a history of negative complaints. Remember, each state has its own official board of accountancy and their Web site addresses usually end in .gov or .us.
4. Get Prepared: Gather your tax information around you so you don't have to stop and search for a missing document. Once this is done, check out the following:
a. Head to IRS-recommended "Free File Alliance" sites like www.efile.com or www.eztaxreturn.com to get started. These sites are secure and offer step-by-step instructions.
b. Many banks offer free services like TurboTax to their members. But consumers need to be sure that e-filing e-mails are legit ÔÇô many scammers create "official looking" e-mails to dupe recipients into entering personal information that leads to identity theft.
5. Verify after filing: The IRS will provide an official acknowledgement that they received your tax files. You can request direct deposit for quick access to your return. If you owe money, you can authorize an electronic funds withdrawal from your savings or checking account or pay via credit card.
6. Save Data ÔÇô Delete Stress: Back up, back up, back up. Accidents will happen, but losing a year's worth of tax records should not be one of them. Purchase removable media such as CDs, DVDs or even an external hard drive and regularly copy important information accordingly. There are more than 20,000 Geek Squad Agents available nationwide to help you back up your data if you need it. Printing out your financial records isn't a bad idea either.
7. Protect Your Returns: The only thing worse than no tax refund would be losing your financial records to a virus or inadvertently sharing those records with the outside world. Make sure you:
Protect yourself and your system with the latest anti-virus/anti-spyware software such as Trend Micro, Norton Antivirus or McAfee VirusScan Plus
Install effective wireless security and firewalls
Create passwords in combinations of numbers and letters, and change them frequently