Ways to get a helping hand with tax forms

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Posted: Saturday, January 18, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 11:09 am, Tue Mar 25, 2014.

Tax-filing season is about to begin. This year, the Internal Revenue Service will begin accepting returns Jan. 31. For help preparing and filing your taxes, or determining if you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, there is help online or in person in the Omaha area.

>> The Free File program, the Internal Revenue Service’s online tax preparation and e-filing program, is now available at irs.gov/freefile. The free service, provided by the Free File Alliance, a coalition of tax software companies, offers step-by-step preparation and e-filing for taxpayers with an annual gross income of $58,000 or less.

Users can select from more than a dozen different software programs to prepare their federal tax returns at no cost. Some programs also support state tax returns.

“Free File is the only service that allows users to access and compare free tax software options from more than a dozen top companies ... and it’s all free,” said Tim Hugo, the coalition’s executive director.

Last year, Free File was used by 18,930 out of 873,000 people who filed returns in Nebraska and 26,369 out of 1.4 million filers in Iowa.

Users can choose the company that fits their needs or use the site’s “help me find a company” tool. After making a selection, users will be transferred to the company’s website to prepare, complete and electronically file their federal income tax returns. The service is also available in Spanish.

Free File companies will securely hold your completed tax return until Jan. 31 when the IRS begins accepting returns.

Free online tax forms and basic federal e-filing services for any income level are also available at irs.gov/freefile.

The alliance has also partnered with the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a walk-in service for low- to moderate-income taxpayers. For more information go to freefilealliance.org.

>> Locally, the Omaha Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition will oversee five Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites. Most sites will open the week of Jan. 27. The tax preparation centers, which are administered by Family Housing Services and funded through United Way of the Midlands and the Walmart Foundation, will offer free tax preparation by trained local volunteers. The centers will also provide a free online site allowing self-filers a safe way to file their taxes themselves.

The centers: Family Housing Advisory Services, 3605 Q St., Omaha, open Jan. 27; Eastern Nebraska Community Action Program, 2406 Fowler Ave., Omaha, open Jan. 27; Metropolitan Community College, Fort Omaha Campus, 30th and Fort Streets, Building 10, Room 122, open Feb. 1; Goodwill Industries, 4805 N. 72nd St., Omaha, open Jan. 28. Also, by appointment only: Latino Center of the Midlands, 4821 S. 24th St. For an appointment, call 402-733-2720.

To learn more about the centers and their hours of operation go to: http://bit.ly/1dx3wt2 or go to Facebook.com/OmahaEITC.

Some centers also will offer additional services, including screenings for public benefits, prescription drug savings and free financial education seminars. For more information call 211 or go to uwmidlands.org/taxes or fhasinc.org.

>> Most Omaha-Council Bluffs area residents who earn $58,000 or less can prepare their own taxes using an online program offered through a collaboration of United Way and the Walmart Foundation. The site, MyFreeTaxes.com/uwmomaha, can be accessed from any Internet-enabled computer.

About 1.7 million U.S. taxpayers used the free in-person tax locations and online sites last year, resulting in $2.1 billion in tax refunds. Eligible tax-filers claimed $613 million last year in Earned Income Tax Credits.

For state income tax filing, the Nebraska Department of Revenue said Friday that it will open the NebFile for Individuals free income tax electronic filing system on Jan. 27. All other electronically filed income tax returns will be accepted by the department beginning Jan. 31.

Individual income tax booklets will be mailed in late January only to Nebraskans who filed the booklet’s paper forms last year. The department noted that if you file a paper income tax return, it may take up to three months for your refund to be issued. Tax refunds generally are issued in less than 21 days after receiving an e-filed income tax return and direct deposit banking information.

For more information on the state filing information, go to revenue.nebraska.gov.

The IRS is also cautioning tax-filers to guard against tax identity fraud. Thieves use stolen Social Security numbers to file fake tax returns and claim refunds. In the last two years, the IRS has flagged 14.6 million suspicious tax returns, blocking more than $50 billion in fraudulent refunds.

SAC Federal Credit Union offers these tips to guard their personal information and prevent tax identity fraud:

>> Guard your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card or documents with your number.

>> Know whom you’re dealing with. The IRS and other legitimate enterprises won’t email or contact you via social media asking for personal data. Don’t give out information, such as your Social Security number, unless you’re certain with whom you’re dealing.

>> Password-protect your financial information. Change your passwords for your banking and investing websites often, and never write them down. If you send financial data to your accountant or receive your returns via email, make sure documents are password-protected.

>> Research your tax preparer. Danger looms online. Be sure your tax preparer is a real person, and one you can trust.

>> Shred away. Don’t just toss tax or financial documents in the trash. Anything with your personal information should be shredded.

>> File early. Beat tax identity thieves to the punch.

>> Monitor your personal data. Get your free annual credit report and check to see if anyone has opened an account in your name. You can also order a tax return transcript form the IRS to compare with your own records.

Suspect identity theft? For more information, go to resource.sacfcu.com/essential-id-theft-checklist or call the IRS Identity Theft Protection Specialized Unit toll free at 1-800-908-4490.

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