Tax Tip: Picking a Preparer

iStock/ThinkstockTax season is here. And while you may have all of your documents ready, do you know who's doing your taxes?

If you have a tax preparer you trust and who's been able to save you money in the past, chances are you'll probably go back to that person. But what if you're looking someone new?

"You can find a list from the National Association of Enrolled Agents," says New York tax accountant Janice Hayman.

Once you're on the NAEA's website, you can use its search tools to narrow down your hunt for a tax preparer.

"It will list what they specialize in whether it's individuals, representations, small business, things of that nature," Hayman says.

You could also skip a preparer and opt to either file your own taxes, or do it yourself using one of the many tax software programs that are available. But Hayman recommends the personal approach.

"They will follow up with you if there are any notices that come up, any questions at all from any of the government agencies whether it's federal, state or local, you can contact that tax professional and they will work through the problem with you," she says.

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Tax Tip: Filing for Same-Sex Couples

Stockbyte/ThinkstockMarriage equality means tax payment equality. 

New York tax accountant Janice Hayman says there's no disparity between traditional marriages and same-sex marriages in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.

"We really don't have any major differences anymore," she notes.

The question is whether couples choose to file jointly or as individuals. 

"The combined income will subject them to a whole slew of tax issues that married couples have been dealing with over the years. They will have to look to see if it does make sense to file jointly or separately," Hayman explains.

She says newlyweds may want to carefully research their options.

"Their withholding during the year may have been fine for their income, but the combined income has them in a higher bracket and they fall short, ending up owing in many instances," she says.

On the plus side, same-sex parents are entitled to the same dependent care and child tax credits as everyone else.

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Tax Tip: It Pays to Be a Parent During Tax Season

iStock/ThinkstockAll those long nights of lost sleep will finally pay off for moms and dads when it comes time to filing their taxes.

New York tax accountant Janice Hayman says kids can be helpful, "especially if they're young."

Each child you claim as a dependant earns you a tax credit of up to $1,000. That's called the Child Tax Credit -- and there are even more savings if you've been paying for child care.

"If they're under age 13 and both parents are working, there is a child and dependent care credit if you are spending $3,000 per child with after school or other dependant care expenses," Hayman explains.  

You can also claim an in-law or your own mother or father if you're responsible for their housing.

"If you do have an aging parent living with you and they are your dependent, there can be some variety of tax savings, including if they have medical deductions," she says.

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Tax Tip: Reaping the Tax Benefits of Homeownership

iStock/ThinkstockYou may view your home as a money pit that's always in need of fixing but when it comes to filing your taxes, you can rejoice.

New York tax accountant Janice Hayman says there's a lot to write off.

"We still have, thankfully, our mortgage interest deduction and that's a tremendous saving as well as the deduction for real estate taxes," she says.

You can also save by making your home more energy efficient. The Internal Revenue Service allows big deductions of up to 30 percent off expenditures on things like solar panels and wind energy. There are deductions for insulation, as well.

When it comes to foreclosure, tax law sees debt forgiveness as a financial benefit. But Hayman says there's a silver lining for those who have been forced by the bank to give up their home.

"If you had to have a foreclosure on your primary residence, the amount of that debt won't have to be considered income to you as long as that was a foreclosure on your main home," she notes.   

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Tax Tip: On the Job Tax Savings

iStock/ThinkstockWhat kind of deductions can you get from where you work?

New York tax accountant Janice Hayman says it depends on what line of work you're in.

"If you're self-employed, we have a bundle of deductions for you," she says. Those deductions could include heating, water and  air conditioning if you work from home.

If you're an educator, you can save on classroom supplies.

"This is for elementary and high school teachers. They get what we call an above the line deduction of $250 for supplies that they have purchased during the year and used in their jobs," Hayman explains.

Just make sure you save your receipts.

When it comes to filling out your company's W-4 Form, Hayman advises you over withhold to get a bigger tax return rather than making the most out of your allowances to get paid more in your paycheck.

"Over withhold a little bit to give them a cushion in case there's anything that comes up during the year we're not anticipating," she says.

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Tax Tip: A Tax Filer's Guide to Divorce

iStock/ThinkstockDon't let a broken marriage break the bank this tax season.

"In the year you get divorced you're no longer married, so obviously you're going to file your return as single and you want to make sure that your Social Security number isn't appearing with your ex-spouses and that you kept your records separately," advises Charles Stein, a New York certified public accountant who deals with divorce.

When it comes to legal spousal support, some of it is reportable income, while some of it is not.

"When a divorce decree is written up you want to watch as far as what's alimony, what's child support. Now, the alimony is deductible to the spouse that pays it, and child support is not deductible to the spouse that pays it," Stein says.

The Internal Revenue Service says you can't deduct legal fees and court costs following a marital break-up. But you might be able to deduct legal fees paid for tax advice in connection with a divorce.

You can find more information at

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Tax Tip: Will Low Gas Prices Impact Your Return?

iStock/ThinkstockFor those who deduct work-related mileage costs, the good news is there's no change in your tax filings yet. But that's about to change.

"For 2015, the business mileage deduction is 57.5 cents per mile and for 2016 it goes down to 54 cents a mile," says Charles Stein, a certified public accountant in New York.

"[That's] because gas prices are less and this mileage rate is a composite of gasoline prices, insurance, depreciation on a car, wear and tear, repairs and so on," he explains.

If you moved, you can deduct the miles as long as the relocation was for work.

"[Y]ou have to move more than 35 miles from the job to a new job. Yes, the mileage would be deductible along with your moving expenses," Stein says.

Moving mileage and mileage for medical use drops from 23 cents a mile to 19 cents a mile in 2016. If you use your vehicle for charity, the mileage deductions will remain the same at 14 cents a mile.

You can find more information at

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Tax Tip: Knowing Your Rights

Fuse/ThinkstockDid you know there's a taxpayer's bill of rights?

Not many of us do, says Charles Stein, a New York certified public accountant.

"They should be more aware," he says. "I think a lot of people are very, very afraid of the IRS and they really shouldn't be. It's not a totally unfair system."

The Internal Revenue Service says every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they're entitled to when dealing with the agency.

There are a total of 10 rights, Stein says: "You have the right to be informed. You have the right for quality service, the right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax, the right to challenge the IRS' position and be heard, the right to appeal an IRS decision in an independent forum. The right to finality. The right to privacy, so they can't broadcast things around. The right to confidentiality. The right to retain representation if you need one. The right to fair and just tax system.

You can find more information at

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Tax Tip: Protecting Your Refund from Scammers

iStock/ThinkstockIdentity theft is a fast growing problem for taxpayers.

The Internal Revenue Service says it investigated nearly 1,500 cases of tax fraud in 2013, up 66 percent from the year before.

"The scams are usually what they call phishing, where they're fishing for information. So you should not give out any information -- banking or Social Security numbers or anything like that -- on the phone," New York certified public accountant Charles Stein says, explaining the most common way criminals get their hands on people's tax refunds.

The IRS says it will never contact you for personal information over the phone, email or social media, and asks taxpayers to report suspected phishing to

Mixing up your online passwords also helps. Always use a mix of numbers and special characters, and make sure to keep all those passwords stored in a safe place.

The best way to protect yourself from scammers is to file your taxes as soon as you have all of your documents, Stein says.

If you think you've been scammed, call the IRS right away and they'll find a way to get you that refund.

"The IRS will send you a letter and they'll generally ask you to file via paper instead of electronically because somebody's probably beat you to filing," says Stein.

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Tax Tip: Hold On to Your Documents

iStock/ThinkstockFiling your taxes can be stressful, especially if you have multiple documents that require reporting.

"Usually if you work in a job you have a W-2," says Charles Stein, a New York certified public accountant. If you have interest in the bank, you may have a 1099. If you have a brokerage account, they also issue 1099s."

Some documents don't arrive until just a few weeks before Tax Day -- like 1099s, which don't get mailed out until February. Other forms arrive even later.

"And anybody who's involved in any kind of partnership-type investments, those documents usually don't come out until March," Stein says.

With a pile of paperwork, it's easy to make mistakes -- and those mistakes could get you audited.

Stein says he advises all of his clients to keep tax documents dating back at least seven years in case the government finds any problems.

"As far as the IRS is concerned, they can only go back three. But if they find some egregious error, they can go back further," he notes.

So make sure to always have your paperwork filed away in a safe place just in case. When it comes to your money, there's no such thing as hoarding.

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Tax Tip: Making Sure All Your Investments Are Filed

iStock/ThinkstockWhether your investments are winning or losing, one thing remains constant: Filing tax documents.

Many workers simply have to file a W2 and they're done, but capital gains earners have to file a 1099 as well, which doesn't come until February.

Internal Revenue Service spokesperson Eric Smith says the extra document actually makes filing easier.

"You actually need to fill in less on your return than if you don't get a statement, or if the statement is incorrect," he says.

Smith admits that it can be hard to know your gains and losses for sure, so make sure to talk to your broker.

"One of the things that's changed in the last few years is increased reporting by brokers to their clients in terms of stock sales that they have," he says.

If you don't think you'll get the paperwork in by April 18, then go to to file an extension.

"Interest is going to be due certainly on anything that comes in after the deadline. That's currently 3 percent per year compounded daily. Now that interest rate has been pretty steady in the last few years, it does fluctuate," Smith says.

He says a late fee could apply, but adds that you should be safe as long as you come close to your estimates.

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Tax Tip: Filing an Extension

iStock/ThinkstockWe all need to file our taxes but sometimes the required documents come late, there's a mistake or life just gets in the way. When that happens, you need to let the Internal Revenue Service know that you'll be needing an extension.

IRS spokesperson Yadira Nadal says all the required paperwork can be found on

"In a matter of minutes, anyone regardless of income can use this free service to electronically request an extension," she says.

But take note: Even if you file for an extension, you still need to pay.

"A request for an extension will give extra time to file a tax return, not extra time to pay any taxes owed. So by filing either a regular tax return or requesting an extension by the April 18 deadline, taxpayers will avoid the late filing penalty," Nadal says.

It's not always easy, however, to know for sure how much income to report when filing your taxes later in the year. IRS spokesperson Eric Smith says give your best guess.

"Typically, if you've made a reasonable estimate of your tax liability, that's going to be accepted," Smith says.

An accurate guess will also help you avoid paying penalties and possibly being audited.

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Tax Tip: Getting the Most Out of Flexible Spending Accounts

Ingram Publishing/ThinkstockFlexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) are a great way for workers to pay medical bills and other forms of spending before paying income taxes.

"The great thing about an FSA is that it's a very good way or an easy way for people to put aside money through their employer to pay for expenses that may not be covered or would not be covered by insurance or other reimbursements," explains Internal Revenue Service spokesman Eric Smith.

That includes health care deductibles and other payments, like co-insurance fees. They work best when you know you have a big medical bill coming, like an operation or even if one of your kids needs braces.

"You can put in up to $2,550, so if you're not doing that now it's one of the things you may want to plan for as you go through the year," Smith says.

For many companies, that FSA has to be spent by the end of the calendar year. Some employers give workers a two-month extension, while others are even more generous and allow a rollover.

"One option is to carry over up to $500 to the next year. If you have that, you have until the end of the next year to spend that money," Smith explains.

In all cases, if you don't use it, you lose it.

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Tax Tip: Are You Eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit?

iStock/ThinkstockJob numbers are up but pay has been flat for years, meaning more families are on a fixed income.

For people at a certain income level, some of the financial burden may be lifted with a special tax break, says Yadira Nadal, a spokesperson for the Internal Revenue Service.

"The earned income tax credit, or EITC, is a financial boost for people who work for someone else, or own or run their own business or farm, and earned less than $54,000 in 2015," she explains.

The credit amounts to more than $2,400 per taxpayer. Nadal says the federal government pays out tens of billions of dollars in earned income tax credits every year.

"Nationwide last year, more than 27.5 million eligible individuals and families received almost $66.7 billion in EITC, she notes.

Of course, in order to get the tax credit, you need to file your taxes. The IRS provides all the forms you need online.

"Workers need to file a tax return and complete schedule EITC to claim the credit even if they aren't required to file. So they need to file a tax return to claim the credit," Nadal says.

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Tax Tip: Your Taxes May Be Higher than You Think

iStock/ThinkstockThis tax season, about four million people will pay what's called an alternative minimum income tax.

"It's essentially designed for people who are taking advantage of a great many tax benefits -- maybe deductions and credits, a special treatment of income," explains Internal Revenue Service spokesperson Eric Smith.

He says the tax is designed to make sure everybody pays at least some tax.

"If you have large amounts of, for example, state and local taxes that you're deducting, that's one situation that can trigger the alternative minimum tax for some people. But everybody's situation is different," Smith says.

Do your taxes the regular way and then the alternative way, and pay whichever amount is higher.

There are exceptions: It's currently around $83,000 for a married couple and about $53,000 for a single person. Knowing which tax to pay can be complicated, Smith says.

"If you're using tax preparation software, it generally will calculate that for you or determine that for you, and give you some pointers on how to do that correctly," he says.

Only about 2 percent of all taxpayers are stuck with the alternative minimum income tax, but that somebody could be you so make sure to do the math. And remember: Tax Day is April 18.

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Tax Tip: How to Avoid Getting Audited

iStock/ThinkstockWith Tax Day looming, many experts advise holding onto tax filings dating back at least seven years in case the Internal Revenue Service comes calling.

While years of budget cuts have de-fanged the agency to a certain extent, lessening the number of audits as a result, IRS spokesperson Eric Smith says "there is another way that we contact people that actually happens more often that people should be aware of and that's what we call document matching."

When you submit your tax information to the government, you're not the only person doing so. It's also filed by banks and employers. The IRS checks to make sure the paperwork lines up, and the agency could contact you if the income you report doesn't match what your bank or employer reports.

Of course, everybody makes mistakes.

"Maybe you reported it correctly and maybe we missed it, something like that; in other cases people forget the income or didn't report it properly," Smith says.

He suggests using tax preparation software to minimize errors.

"It's an opportunity where people can often pick up mistakes that they would've missed if they hadn't used the software," Smith explains.

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Tax Tip: Using Tax Software

iStock/ThinkstockYou really can trust tax software when you're filing your taxes.

While a human tax preparer might be able to offer you advice you can't get from a computer, if you pick the right program there's no reason not to do it yourself.

"If you have a very complicated return, maybe the more basic software isn't going to do the trick," explains Internal Revenue Service spokesman Eric Smith. "But on the other hand, if you have a simple tax situation, very often the software that's available is just fine."

Once your return is done, the software makes filing electronically simple, so you get your refund as quickly as possible.

And through an IRS program called Free File, some people can get tax software free of charge.

"For those who qualify, particularly those who make less than $62,000 a year, it's actually free. Free for the software, and free for the filing as well," Smith says.

And that free software includes some brand names you'll recognize. See if you're eligible at

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Tax Tip: Getting Free Help When You File

iStock/ThinkstockIf you need help filing your taxes, you don't necessarily have to pay for it.

The Internal Revenue Service has a program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA.

IRS spokeswoman Yadira Nadal says those volunteers are ready to offer advice and help preparing returns "to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns."

There's also a program called Tax Counseling for the Elderly, or TCE, that's available to all taxpayers 60 and older. It specializes in "questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors," Nadal says.

Those helpers often are seniors themselves and work with non-profits that receive grants from the IRS.

VITA and TCE volunteers work at sites set up at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools and shopping malls.

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Tax Tip: Waiting for Your Refund

iStock/ThinkstockOnce you've filed your taxes, how long will you have to wait to get your refund?

The Internal Revenue Service says nine out of 10 taxpayers who are getting money back should see it within 21 days.

"So most people will get their refunds quickly," IRS spokesman Eric Smith says. "The best and easiest way to get a quick refund is to file electronically and choose direct deposit."

Smith says you can track your refund on the IRS' website. Look for the link that says, "Where's My Refund?" and make sure you have some important information nearby.

"Your Social Security number, your filing status, how much of a refund you're expecting," he says.

You can still request your refund via check if you want, but it takes longer to arrive and less and less people are choosing this option.

"Now, more than four out of five people file their returns electronically. And nearly four out of five people who get refunds choose direct deposit," Smith notes.

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Tax Tip: Opening a MYRA Account

Purestock/ThinkstockAre you getting a tax refund this year? Why not put some of that money toward your retirement?

The treasury department has a new program this year that helps you save money for the future. It's called My Retirement Account, or MYRA.

"It's particularly aimed at people who maybe haven't taken advantage of retirement options in the past," explains Internal Revenue Service spokesman Eric Smith. "You can access it at"

Smith adds, "If you're looking for a starter rertirement account, this one may be for you."

The account is a Roth IRA that invests in government-backed bonds, so it's safer than other investments and may be an option for people who aren't comfortable playing the markets.

You can contribute to it through payroll deduction, like you would for a 401(k).

"Or when you file a return, you can choose to have your refund deposited directly into a MYRA account," says Smith.

The maximum amount you can contribute, over time, is $15,000.

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