Money Matters: Time to get down to brass “tax”

Education Resources, Finance 411,

It was a good idea to file early this year, but there’s a good chance there are procrastinators in your community. Now’s a good time for last-minute tax filing stories as the deadline approaches.

Here are a few ideas:

Is it too late to change your tax bill?
If anyone in your audience is dreading filing this year due to a large tax bill, it may not be too late to lower it. How? Certain late contributions to some types of retirement accounts, as long as they’re made by the filing deadline, can mean an additional write-off.

What are some resources for filing help?
Once it’s getting late in the game, it might seem quickest and easiest to hire a tax preparer. But is a tax filing service worth it? Are services a better option for certain more complex tax situations, like small business owners? Are there any risks to using a paid preparer? How can consumers chose reputable preparers and avoid scams? Walk your audience through what they would still need to do, like collecting all the necessary documents, and what a preparer does. Lay out the costs of a few tax preparation services in your area.

What about tax filers who would like to file for free? There are an abundance of “free” online filing systems – but warn your audience of hidden costs. For example, some services advertise free filing and offer federal filing at no cost, but charge for filing state returns. Other tax filers may be able to use a wider variety of services free to clients with very straightforward tax situations, and some states offer their own free online filing. Does yours?

Beyond H&R Block and TurboTax, two widely advertised resources, there may be less publicized filing help available. Talk to your local college, university or law school. Are any offering filing clinics staffed by students and faculty?

When will my refund come?
Most federal tax refunds are processed within about 3 weeks, but there can be exceptions.

For example, filers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit initially had slightly longer waits this year, though filers now shouldn’t face any delay. Are there any other common reasons for delay?

State tax refund delayed? It might not be lost – at least one state is delaying refunds for those with outstanding traffic tickets. What about your state?

Weekly Money Matters personal finance content for your newsroom is sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial Education. Submit your story idea.