Triangle Troubleshooter

Troubleshooter: IRS is cutting back on paper

Source: IRS websiteFebruary 5, 2011 

  • Download them from the IRS website: www.irs.gov.

    Visit a Taxpayer Assistance Center, where the IRS offers face-to-face assistance. Go to www.irs.gov and click on "Contact My Local Office" on the Individuals page to find a list of TAC locations by state.

    Call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday to order forms by mail. You should receive your order within 10 days.

Usually, you find those dreaded state and federal income tax forms in your mailbox. But not this tax season.

This is the first year the IRS is not mailing hard copy tax forms.

But stop your happy dance. You still have to pay Uncle Sam - you just have to get the forms yourself.

You can download them from w ww.irs.gov, visit an IRS office or call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) to get the forms.

"We quit automatically sending forms because only 8 percent of returns last year were prepared on documents that had been mailed," said Mark Hanson, an IRS spokesman.

Plus, in these difficult times, the government is looking to tighten its belt. The IRS estimates it will save $10 million on postage and publication costs by not mailing everyone tax forms, Hanson said.

Jack Ratz, 66, of Raleigh has filed paper returns and says he doesn't use the Internet for financial transactions. In October, he received the postcard from the IRS instructing him to call if he wanted paper tax return forms mailed to him. He called and was promised he would receive them in 10 days, he said.

He hasn't. Ratz called the IRS, he said, and was told by a supervisor that the department has been overwhelmed with paper requests and would not be able to mail him a paper copy until Feb. 14.

"Even though everything is assured to be secured [on the Internet] there are too many situations where they are not," he said, explaining why he refuses to file his taxes electronically. "How can I live up to the law if I don't get my tax returns?"

Other tax matters

There are other things of note this tax season:

The filing deadline this year is April 18 - three days later than normal. (Now you can do that happy dance.) The usual filing date of April 15 is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, Hanson said. So tax filers get an extra few days.

The IRS needs to reprogram computers for itemized tax returns. That means it will be mid- to late February before the IRS can accept returns that apply certain new tax breaks, such as college tuition.

The IRS has partnered with Free File Alliance to provide use of its tax preparation software free for taxpayers making $58,000 or less. The program is secure, and when used with direct deposit refunds, you may receive your refund in as little as 10 days. For more information, visit www.irs.gov/efile.

You might be entitled to a refund even if you don't have to pay taxes. Call the IRS or visit www.irs.gov/eitc to learn more and to see whether you qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families.

Free help with taxes

To help the low-income population file taxes electronically, several Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program sites are offering free tax preparation to those earning less than $50,000 a year. VITA is a nationwide program that gives low- and middle-income consumers free help with their taxes.

Peter Skillern, executive director of Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina, which advocates for change in the lending practices of financial institutions, said this is his group's third year providing free tax prep.

"People are using our services to save $250 without paying high fees to tax preparers," Skillern said. "These are hard times, and people are valuing that tax dollar more. For some folks, the tax refund they get is the biggest financial transaction of the year. It could help them move ahead to move out of poverty."

Numerous VITA sites are across the Triangle. To locate the nearest one, call 800-906-9887.

As for those anticipated tax refund loans, Attorney General Roy Cooper is warning people to "think twice" before opting for an "instant" or "rapid" refund, also known as a refund anticipation loan.

"Accepting that check means you're taking out a loan against the refund you hope to get back from the IRS," Cooper said in a statement. "There's no guarantee that you will get a refund from the IRS, and if you don't, you'll still have to pay back the loan."

As with any loan, you'll have to pay interest, Cooper continued. But with refund anticipation loans, the interest rate is usually much higher than with conventional loans. You may also have to pay an extra filing fee, he said.

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