The True Cost of Do-It-Yourself Taxes

The Average DIY Taxpayer Lost b/w $347-$841

Fellow tax professional Dave Ramsey recently preformed a survey of 2000 taxpayers; about half of who prepared their own returns, and the other half who had them prepared professionally. This is what he found:

When you use software to file your income taxes, there’s a moment, an instant just before the point of no return, when you silently wonder—what if?

What if I didn’t enter the numbers correctly?
What if I miscalculated?
What if I missed a deduction or credit?
What if I claimed a deduction or credit I’m not eligible for?

All that uncertainty is one of the downsides of self-filing. Other disadvantages can hit you where it hurts most—your wallet.

Reduced Refund

Since most folks aren’t tax experts, it’s easy for them to miss deductions or credits when they self-file. They are also more likely to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing their expenses. Either of these mistakes could lower their refund.

Take a look at these numbers from our recent survey of 2,000 of Dave’s Facebook fans.

  • Self-filers got an average refund of just less than $1,500.
  • But folks who had their returns professionally prepared had an average refund of nearly $1,800!
  • Procrastinating self-filers, those who filed their returns during April, got an average refund of more than $1,800, while those who used a pro got an average $2,600 refund!

Those folks potentially lost hundreds of dollars by trying to save a buck and doing their taxes themselves. It doesn’t seem like such a smart choice now, does it?

Magnified Mistakes

The cost of DIY tax prep isn’t limited to the size of your refund. Your mistakes can also cost you in the form of penalties and interest.

The IRS checks every return for a signature (manual or electronic) and math errors and cross-checks all sources of income that are reported via W2s, 1099s, etc. So if you fail to report any income or enter the wrong number in the wrong column, the IRS will call you on it.

And if it turns out you owe taxes, by the time the IRS notifies you, penalties and interest will have already inflated that amount. You’ll be charged a penalty for paying late and you’ll be charged interest from the date the tax was due until the date of payment, and it compounds daily.

By working with a tax professional, you’ll not only have confidence that your taxes will be done right the first time, you’ll also have peace of mind that your tax professional will be there to help you if the IRS has questions about your return. File with [consumer] tax software, and you’re on your own if the IRS comes knocking…

The evidence is clear; trying to save pennies with DIY tax software can cost you thousands of dollars in unclaimed refunds, penalties and/or interest.  And one of the most important losses is your time.  Remember, even if you are using a “free” DIY tax service, you still have to take the time to for research, record keeping, learning the program and double checking all the figures.   It obvious that receiving a larger well deserved refund is more valuable than smaller refund.   However, the old adage that “time is more valuable than money” couldn’t be more true especially when the IRS reports that it can cost a taxpayer up to 32 hours simply to prepare an annual tax return!

So, save yourself time, money & the stress of preparing your income tax return yourself and contact an R&G Brenner tax professional today.  We offer a free consultation for your current year tax returns as well as your 3 previous years returns.  Plus, you can qualify for many promotions that can save you money & even make you money.

Source: daveramsey.com

R&G Brenner Receives 2011 Best of Business Award

The Small Business Community Association (SBCA) has selected R&G Brenner Income Tax to receive the 2011 Best of Business award in the field of Income Tax Preparation for the NY Metro Area.  This is the second time that R&G Brenner has received this award.  Thanks to all of R&G Brenner’s hard working associates and staff who made this award possible.  And a special “thank you” goes out to all R&G Brenner clients.  Is is due to  your loyal patronage that R&G Brenner will be celebrating it 71st anniversary this year.  We hope to see you all again in 2012.

May you have a happy & healthy new year,

Benjamin K. Brenner, President

Same-Sex Couples Face Tax Hurdles

This past June, New York became the 6th state to legalize same sex marriage.  Regardless of ones individual beliefs concerning same-sex marriage, this much is clear:  Tax laws–which are already complex & confusing–are that much more baffling for same-sex couples. This is mainly due to the fact that the Federal Government does not recognize same-sex unions.  Same-sex couples must file separate federal returns, however they can file jointly in New York State and some other states that recognize these unions.

“What was supposed to be this way of expressing our love was going to seriously confuse our taxes, investments, estate planning, really all our finances,” says [Maggy] Porter, a registered nurse. “Our CPA is great, but even he seems pretty bewildered”

While marriage can save heterosexual couples a bundle, it could cost same-sex couples thousands of dollars in extra taxes and professional advice…

“Filing taxes for same-sex spouses is much more complicated, more expensive and time-consuming, and there is very little guidance from the IRS or elsewhere,” says Pan Haskins, a certified public accountant in San Francisco.

While the makers of popular do-it-yourself tax programs like Turbotax & H&R Block are modifying their programs to navigate these complex rules, financial planners are recommending that same-sex couples hire a tax professional to navigate these tax labyrinths:

New York State advises couples do two sets of federal returns — official individual returns for each partner, and a dummy return as if the pair were filing jointly. The joint return is “not to submit but to use it as a work sheet so that you are bringing the correct income information onto a joint state return,” says Ed Walsh, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

Some same-sex spouses are fed up enough to submit that joint federal return. Haskins reports, in her experience, the IRS has so far not challenged same-sex married returns. (IRS forms don’t ask for gender identification.) But she warns couples who file federal returns jointly that they risk financial penalties and a potential audit. “This,” she says, “is still the Wild West of financial planning.

If you would like more information regarding same-sex tax implications, contact an R&G Brenner representative today.  The following are some tax tips to consider for same-sex tax filers:

CONSIDER HOLDING ASSETS JOINTLY:  Income or expenses from joint assets can be allocated all or in part to either owner’s return.

INCOME: (e.g. interest, dividends, capital gains) may be shifted to the partner with the lower income, while deductions (e.g. mortgage interest, real estate taxes, capital losses) may be claimed by the partner in the higher income tax bracket. This could lead to tax savings for both partners.

TAXES ON HEALTH INSURANCE:  Unlike heterosexual marriages, employer-based health coverage for same-sex spouses is not tax-exempt, and employers must report it as income to the IRS.

Source: Newsday

October 17th Deadline for Tax Return Extensions Approaching

Oct. 17 is a key deadline for millions of individual taxpayers who requested an extension to file their 2010 tax returns. The IRS expects to receive millions of tax returns from taxpayers who used Form 4868 to request a six-month extension to file their returns.

Some taxpayers can wait until after Oct. 17 to file, including those serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or other combat zone localities and people affected by recent natural disasters. More information is available in IRS Publication 17 (2010), Your Federal Income Tax.

If you filed an extension and need to submit a tax return before this deadline, please contact us as soon as possible so we may assist you.

Source: IRS.gov

Free Tax Prep Sites: Inaccurate Returns & Privacy Breach Concerns

The old adage that “you get what you pay for” is compounded when applied to free income tax preparation…In fact, a free tax return may cost taxpayers more than they bargained for.  The title of a report filed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) sums it up frankly: Accuracy of Tax Returns, the Quality Assurance Processes, and Security of Taxpayer Information Remain Problems for the Volunteer Program.

The TIGTA audits of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites–a program sponsored by the IRS which caters to low-income tax payers, the elderly & the disabled–found that their accuracy rate was far below 50%.  Of the 36 tax returns that undercover TIGTA auditors had prepared at VITA sites, only 14 were considered to be filed correctly. That is a whopping 61% inaccuracy rate.  What is particularly alarming is the deliberate “modified facts” that some volunteers engaged in to inflate potential refunds, as well as the absence of a thorough vetting process to weed-out potentially unscrupulous volunteers:

The accuracy rates for tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites decreased sharply from the 2010 Filing Season. Of the 36 tax returns prepared for TIGTA auditors, only 14 (39 percent) were prepared correctly. Tax returns were prepared incorrectly because volunteers did not follow all guidelines. For example, volunteers did not always use the intake sheets correctly. For three (14 percent) of the 22 incorrectly prepared tax returns, volunteers knowingly modified the facts the auditors presented…[Furthermore] Current steps and processes do not ensure the integrity of volunteers, even though the volunteers have access to taxpayers’ Personally Identifiable Information, such as Social Security Numbers, driver licenses, and home addresses.

TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George had the following to say:

The findings of this review are very troubling…The Volunteer Program plays an important role in helping many taxpayers, notably those who have low incomes, and the elderly, disabled, and limited-English proficient, participate in the tax system. Like all taxpayers, they deserve to have their tax returns prepared accurately. I am pleased that the IRS has agreed to our recommendations to address these problems.

Some of the important TGITA recommendations agreed to by the VITA program are as follows:

  • Include anonymous shopping visits as part of the quality review process
  • Improve controls over Volunteer Standards of Conduct (Form 13615)
  • Develop a process to ensure all volunteers are following the guidance focusing on the integrity of the Volunteer Program and the security of taxpayer information
  • Review the IRS fraud hotline procedures to determine best practices

R&G Brenner recognizes the valuable service that the thousands of VITA volunteers provide to millions of taxpayers across the country. However, it is apparent that the quality of these returns leaves much to be desired considering the continually changing & vastly complex tax code.  When you pair this with the fact that most VITA volunteers receive little or no compensation, it is not hard to see why so many returns are being prepared incorrectly, and that an environment for potential identity theft is being sewn.

For many, a tax return is the most important financial document they will file each year. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that your tax preparer have a vested interest in the accuracy of your filings.  Here at R&G Brenner, we offer many promotions including a $50 introductory fee for new clients that qualify for tax assistance.  We can’t compete with “free”, but we can guarantee that our tax professionals, enrolled agents & CPA’s will have an attentive vested interest in preparing your return accurately, and getting you back every penny you deserve.  Remember, it’s not “free” if you are forced to spend considerable time retriving old tax documents, and money on penalties and interest correcting mistakes.  Contact R&G Brenner for more information, and to have your tax return reviewed for accuracy free of charge.

Sources: TIGTAWebCPA

Exclusive Interview With TurboTax Whistle Blower

Last week, I did a blog post about Mr. Charles Freret who went on a one-man crusade to expose a flaw in the popular do-it-yourself tax program: Intuit’s TurboTax.  You can read that article & post here.   After Mr. Freret read the aforementioned post, he contacted R&G Brenner and agreed to sit down for an exclusive interview.  Mr. Freret’s story of persistence to discover the truth is incredible.  What he uncovered along his journey is TurboTax is miscalculating tax returns on a large scale.  And upon further investigation, the TurboTax flaw was present not only in the current tax year program, but tax years 2008 & 2007 as well.  Coverups, Lies & Government disinterest all will eventually lead to more money out of TurboTax users pockets.  Here is his story:

R&G Brenner (RGB): How long have you been preparing your own taxes?

Charles Freret (CF):…over 40 years

RGB: So you’re pretty well versed in preparing your own taxes, and you have been doing them by hand!?

CF: Yes

RGB: Was 2010 the first year you used TurboTax?

CF: No, I used it once before in 2004

RGB: But this tax year, you discovered a problem with the calculation of your taxes using TurboTax?

CF: That’s correct, and the only reason I used it this year…was because I had a free [e-file] submission

RGB: In order to get your refund a little faster?

CF: Yes

RGB: Ok…and you discovered that there was a problem with TurboTax increasing your refund.

CF: Yes, by [giving] a deduction twice.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview With TurboTax Whistle Blower”

Happy April 15th! Last Minute Tax Tips

Well tax day is finally here!  It’s been a rough year for all american taxpayers due to the economic crises; including the employees and associates of R&G Brenner.  Therefore I would like to thank all R&G Brenner associates for their hard work, 12 hour work days and tireless efforts.  Without these experienced professionals, as well as all of our valued and loyal clients, R&G Brenner would not and could not be what it is today.  Thank you all.

Here are some last minute tips:

  • If you owe taxes and are mailing in your returns, be sure the envelopes are postmarked by 11:59pm on April 15th.  If they are not, you will be subject to late filing penalties and interest
  • If you owe taxes and need to file an extension because you are not ready to submit your returns, we can help you.  Remember, an extension does not preclude you from paying your taxes.  They must be sent along with the extension before 4/15
  • Be sure to put primary & secondary (if applicable) Social Security numbers on any checks sent as payments
  • Keep all personal return back up documentation of your deductions for a minimum of 7 years.  Keep all documentation for Business Tax Returns FOREVER.
  • If you have not filed a 2006 tax return, or plan on filing an amended 2006 tax return, they also must be submitted before 4/15.  Any 2006 return submitted after this date will not be accepted, and all potential refunds will be forfeited
  • If you are due a refund, no worries!  You have three years to file.  So don’t kill yourself trying to get your taxes filed by the 4/15 deadline
  • If you filed your taxes yourself R&G Brenner is offering a free review of your self-prepared tax returns.  If your return can be amended to your benefit, we will reduce your quoted fee by the retail amount you spent on your software.  This is especially pertinent for TurboTax filers as it has come to light that their program is miscalculating tax returns.

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks again and see you next year!

Benjamin K. Brenner, PRESIDENT

What If Turbotax Makes a Mistake?

TurboTax–the leading do-it-yourself tax software estimated to be used by 40 million taxpayers in 2010–is miscalculating tax returns:

A flaw in the most recent version of TurboTax, the nation’s most popular tax-preparation software, may have caused thousands of retired federal employees to overstate their medical deductions and unwittingly underpay the Internal Revenue Service, according to federal officials.

Overstating your deductions–knowingly or unknowingly–can lead to large penalties and interest since it could take years before the IRS contacts the taxpayer alerting them of an adjustment.

Officials for Intuit, the Mountain View, Calif., company that produces the program, were alerted to the problem last week, after a retired federal worker from Virginia noticed that TurboTax had automatically double-counted his medical insurance premiums as deductions.

When questioned about the problem by a reporter last week, Intuit said it had begun working with the I.R.S. to revise its computer-prompted instructions on TurboTax and prevent such errors in the future.

The program has nonetheless been troubled by occasional glitches and security breeches, notably in 2007, when so many last-minute filers overwhelmed the TurboTax servers that many returns failed to make it to the I.R.S. by the filing deadline.

Both I.R.S. and Intuit officials were scrambling to gauge the scope of the problem involving the federal retirees, but said only a limited number of returns appeared to be involved.

As stated in a previous post here, there are many risks associated with preparing ones own taxes; particularly the prospect of miscalculations due to a failure to apply updates which are released frequently throughout the tax season.  This is not the first time TurboTax has had a calculation error in it’s software, and it won’t be the last. What is disturbing is the amount of persistence the discovering taxpayer had to exert for Intuit & the IRS to acknowledge and correct the problem:

The man who reported the problem, Charlie Freret of Chantilly, Va., stumbled across the error while using a free version of TurboTax to e-file a tax return he had already prepared on paper. Mr. Freret, who retired as a lawyer in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in 2004, said he had hoped that e-filing would allow him to get his refund more quickly. But the tax return calculated by TurboTax promised him a refund $600 larger than he was entitled to because it automatically added his medical insurance premiums to his deductions — after the computer-generated prompt had instructed him to enter his health care expenses manually.

Mr. Freret reported the problem to Intuit officials and, when the company acknowledged the error but did not issue a broad warning about how to avoid it, decided to report it to the I.R.S. and the Treasury Department. But auditors at the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration were unable to duplicate the error when they tested versions of the software, so Mr. Freret contacted members of the news media, including The New York Times.

So it was not until Mr. Freret contacted the media that corrective action was taken by either Intuit or the IRS! Something is not right here.  The IRS & Intuit contends that this calculation error is limited to a small subsection of federal employees, however, judging from the “scrambling” going on, and launched investigations, I wouldn’t be so sure:

J. Russell George, the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said his office was planning to begin a thorough review of TurboTax and similar software, which has become far more widely used than when last audited in 2005.

“This is especially troubling given the fiscal constraints that the nation finds itself in because this problem could allow people to pay less money than they owe,” Mr. George said. “It is truly incumbent upon us to let taxpayers have confidence that the software they use to prepare their returns will be accurate.”

How is it that the last time that the nations largest tax program was audited was 5 years ago?!  That doesn’t seem right.  Bill Singer of Stark & Stark law firm was recently interviewed by Forbes and had this to say:

…what I would say is that if there’s a winner in this mess and, you know, keep in mind that I think the tax code is something like 70,000 pages at this point, I think the winner is clearly TurboTax. I don’t know whether long term that’s a wonderful development because I suspect a lot of folks are going to make mistakes in doing their own taxes. But clearly there’s a trend in everything in life today toward going online and using a computer. And I don’t think that that necessarily bodes well for H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt. So that’s another issue.

If you would like a free review of your self-prepared tax return (TurboTax or other brands), contact us today. R&G Brenner will ascertain if your calculations are correct and check for deductions that the software missed and you deserve.  If your tax return was calculated incorrectly, contact the company and inquire how they intend to compensate you.  Most reputable companies will reimburse any potential penalties assessed due to a calculation error on their part.

Sources: NY Times & Forbes

Half of Americans Will NOT Pay Taxes in 2010

All is not well at the IRS.  According to the Tax Policy Center–and what is surely to exacerbate the Federal budget crisis-47% of American households will pay ZERO federal income taxes this year.

Either their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability…In recent years, credits for low- and middle-income families have grown so much that a family of four making as much as $50,000 will owe no federal income tax for 2009, as long as there are two children younger than 17, according to a separate analysis by the consulting firm Deloitte Tax.

Even if you do not have to pay federal taxes this year, it is recommended that you still file a return as this is the only way to receive money back that was withheld by your employer.  If you are unsure if you are required to file a tax return or if you are due money back from your employer, contact us today.

Tax cuts enacted in the past decade have been generous to wealthy taxpayers, too, making them a target for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. Less noticed were tax cuts for low- and middle-income families, which were expanded when Obama signed the massive economic recovery package last year.

The result is a tax system that exempts almost half the country from paying for programs that benefit everyone, including national defense, public safety, infrastructure and education. It is a system in which the top 10 percent of earners – households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 – paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.

The number of households that don’t pay federal income taxes increased substantially in 2008, when the poor economy reduced incomes and Congress cut taxes in an attempt to help recovery.

In 2007, about 38 percent of households paid no federal income tax, a figure that jumped to 49 percent in 2008, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a law providing most families with rebate checks of $300 to $1,200. Last year, Obama signed the economic recovery law that expanded some tax credits and created others. Most targeted low- and middle-income families.

Obama’s Making Work Pay credit provides as much as $800 to couples and $400 to individuals. The expanded child tax credit provides $1,000 for each child under 17. The Earned Income Tax Credit provides up to $5,657 to low-income families with at least three children.

There are also tax credits for college expenses, buying a new home and upgrading an existing home with energy-efficient doors, windows, furnaces and other appliances. Many of the credits are refundable, meaning if the credits exceed the amount of income taxes owed, the taxpayer gets a payment from the government for the difference.

“All these things are ways the government says, if you do this, we’ll reduce your tax bill by some amount,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

The government could provide the same benefits through spending programs, with the same effect on the federal budget, Williams said. But it sounds better for politicians to say they cut taxes rather than they started a new spending program, he added.

The changes made it relatively easy for families of four making $50,000 to eliminate their income tax liability.

Here’s how they did it, according to Deloitte Tax:

The family was entitled to a standard deduction of $11,400 and four personal exemptions of $3,650 apiece, leaving a taxable income of $24,000. The federal income tax on $24,000 is $2,769.

With two children younger than 17, the family qualified for two $1,000 child tax credits. Its Making Work Pay credit was $800 because the parents were married filing jointly.

The $2,800 in credits exceeds the $2,769 in taxes, so the family makes a $31 profit from the federal income tax. That ought to take the sting out of April 15.

Source: Huffington Post