U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What are some tips for taxpayers as the 2018 tax filing season goes into the final stretch?
A: The federal tax filing deadline is less than a month away. Millions of American taxpayers feel a bit of their own march to madness as they sink into paperwork and gather all the information needed to complete and file their tax returns on time. This year the deadline is extended to Tuesday, April 17, due to a legal holiday in Washington, D.C. The IRS will be open through the final weekend to answer taxpayer questions. The tax-collecting agency estimates some 155 million individual tax returns will be filed this year. About 70 percent of filers are eligible for IRS Free File using commercial brand-name software. That option is open to about 100 million individuals with household income of $66,000 or less. As in previous years, the IRS recommends all taxpayers take advantage of electronic filing as the safest, most convenient way to file and to use direct deposit as the fastest way to receive refunds. In an effort to thwart identity thieves from swiping taxpayer information, the IRS advises taxpayers to use its upgraded authentication system to access certain tools online. It takes a few steps to complete, so don’t wait until the last minute. Go to https://www.irs.gov to learn more about how to register for “Secure Access.”
Don’t forget, this is the last time taxpayers will file under the old tax law. So next year, the vast majority of taxpayers will be able to take advantage of a near-doubling of the standard deduction to pay less tax, while avoiding the complexity and time consuming process of itemizing their taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raises the standard deduction to $24,000 per married couple, $12,000 for singles starting next tax season. The new law not only cuts taxes, it will simplify tax returns for millions of Americans.
The IRS also coordinates free tax help to eligible taxpayers through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. Find locations by entering “VITA Locator Tool” in the search box on the IRS website, https://www.irs.gov. Most locations require appointments, so call ahead.
Q: What should taxpayers look out for to protect their personal and financial information?
A: Scam artists never miss an opportunity to hook their victims. And with 155 million Americans filing taxes this year, plenty of wrongdoers are on the prowl to swipe identities and steal refunds. The IRS issues an annual list of so-called Dirty Dozen scams. Leading the list in 2018 is “phishing” whereby scammers use fake emails or websites to lure victims to share sensitive information. Keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers using email. Report suspicious emails by forwarding them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The second leading scam is perpetrated via the telephone. Sophisticated scammers may spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID and use fake names and badge numbers to pose as authorized agents. Phone scams have skimmed $63 million from nearly 13,000 victims since 2013, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. One wacky ploy involves scam artists orchestrating erroneous refunds to be sent to unsuspecting taxpayers. Using a stolen identity and personal information, they file a fraudulent return that results in a falsely issued refund. Then, they pose as collecting officials acting on behalf of the IRS to recover the bogus refund. Taxpayers who receive an unexpected refund out of the blue should contact the IRS toll-free (800) 829-1040 to report the scam and return the money. The IRS also warns against unscrupulous tax preparers. Be wary of refund promises that sound too good to be true. Make sure charities are legitimate, imposters will try to obtain Social Security numbers and passwords to steal identities and money.
Q: Where can taxpayers seek assistance if they are unable to resolve problems with the IRS?
A: As a senior member and former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has legislative and oversight jurisdiction of the IRS, I have long championed taxpayer rights laws and work tirelessly to improve customer service at the federal agency. The taxpayer targeting scandal tarnished an agency already hobbled by a track record of poor customer service. Last fall I re-introduced comprehensive legislation to build on my previous efforts to ensure taxpayers are treated with fairness and respect, including new measures to safeguard taxpayer privacy; ensure low-income and elderly taxpayers continue to have access to free tax preparation services; expand access to IRS appeals and settlement officers in each state; and, curb unauthorized collections and levies. It boils down to a simple premise of self-government. The government works for the people, not the other way around. That includes the Internal Revenue Service. Through my congressional oversight and legislative responsibilities, I will continue working to improve compliance, stop foul play and improve fairness for law-abiding taxpayers at the federal agency. In 1998, I steered passage of the landmark IRS Restructuring and Reform Act through the Senate. It included creation of the Office of the National Taxpayer Advocate. This independent organization within the IRS exists to serve taxpayers and solve problems they are having with the federal agency. Taxpayers needing assistance to help resolve an issue with the IRS may contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service at https://taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov or call the TAS office in Des Moines, (515) 564-6888 to make an appointment. The service is free and confidential for taxpayers unable to resolve issues with the IRS that are causing financial hardship.