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Need a reliable tax preparer? United Way will help you – free

Source: The Fresno Bee

By Lindsay Callahan

March 19, 2018

Have you put off getting your taxes done? If so, you’re not alone. With just a few weeks left before the tax filing deadline, the temptation is strong to stop at the first place you see offering tax services. However, if there was ever a year to be careful when picking a tax preparer, this is it.

While most professional preparers are trustworthy, some so-called ghost preparers have been victimizing unsuspecting taxpayers.

Here’s how ghost preparers work: they set up shop just during the tax season, they crank out returns at record speeds and then, whoosh, they vaporize into thin air. After Tax Day comes, innocent clients are left waiting for their tax-return money to arrive in their mailboxes.

But, it never does, and it won’t. This is because the ghost preparer never filed the taxes with the Internal Revenue Service! They don’t care; they’ve already made money on the tax-preparation fees collected from the unsuspecting tax filer.

Such ghost preparers avoid penalty by not signing the returns they prepare, which is a violation of the law, and by leaving town without a trace. Innocent clients go back to the storefront only to find the tax preparer is long gone and there isn’t anyone they can turn to.

This is why all taxpayers need to do their homework before selecting someone to prepare their taxes for them.

Before doing business with a paid preparer, do a quick web check to see if they are in good standing. State law requires anyone who prepares returns for a fee to be either an attorney, certified public accountant, enrolled agent or registered with the California Tax Education Council.

Each professional must pass a test and follow educational requirements. Paid preparers who do business without a legal designation may face penalties from the Franchise Tax Board.

Another option is to take advantage of free tax-preparation services offered here locally in Fresno and Madera counties by the United Way. These services are available up until Tax Day, which is April 17 this year.

All United Way tax preparers are IRS-certified volunteers who have deep roots in our community, are trustworthy and must undergo rigorous training each year before they begin helping tax payers during the new season.

Our United Way has been preparing taxes for free for more than a decade. Last tax season, we completed more than 7,000 tax returns and returned a total of $11 million to the pockets of hard-working individuals and families here in Fresno and Madera alone.

We are proud to offer this service and make it easier, and free, to connect workers to their hard-earned tax refunds.

We do this by making sure residents take advantage of any eligible tax credits, such as the cash-back California Earned Income Tax Credit, or CalEITC, which was expanded for this tax year.

The average tax return we completed last year carried a refund of $2,500. Imagine what an important infusion of cash like that could mean for a working family living paycheck to paycheck!

To find a free tax preparation site near you, call 211, or visit www.uwfm.org. Whatever option you choose for tax prep, be sure to rely on someone you can trust. Avoid ghost preparers, and instead seek help from those with a proven track record of good service.

Lindsay Callahan is president and CEO of United Way Fresno and Madera counties.