With the 2014 tax filing season set to open Friday, local tax preparers are encouraging their clients to be organized.
"They need to make sure they have their W2s and all the information they can possibly have," said Chris Clapper, owner of Clapper Bookkeeping and Tax Service, Duncansville. "As far as being organized, I don't have much of a problem with my clientele."
Dora Ferry, owner of Dora Ferry Accounting-Tax Services, Altoona, sends out reminders to her customers in December so they remember what to bring to their tax appointment.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich)
Dora Ferry (left) starts to go over tax forms with Margherita Stratton of Duncansville on Tuesday at Dora Ferry Accounting-Tax Services, 2413 Maple Ave., Altoona.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich)
Donald Smith of Altoona tries to stay warm on Tuesday while waving to motorists to draw attention to the Liberty Tax Service office at 516 Plank Road in Morningside Plaza.
Being organized can save you money.
"The list of items you may need is long, but it's not complicated," said John Ams, National Society of Accountants executive vice president. "Accountants love working with clients who are organized, and your tax return will be completed and filed in short order."
The most important items are the W2 wage statements, mortgage interest statements and various 1099 forms, preparers said.
There are some common things that clients may forget.
"They often forget mortgage interest statements if they are itemizing. If they made charitable contributions, we need a list of who they paid into. We don't have to see the receipts but they need to make sure they have the backup in forms of documentation," Ferry said. "If they qualify for Earned Income Credit, they must follow the new rules established last year. They have to prove that their kids live with them. There is a lot of fraud in that area."
There are some things clients may bring in that are helpful for their tax preparer.
"It is a big help if you have the names and Social Security numbers of your dependents. If you are claiming Earned Income Credit and have a copy of school records, that is very helpful. They [IRS] are requiring the tax preparers to validate and check on those things," said Nancy Fellabaum, owner of seven Jackson Hewitt Tax Services franchises - five in Blair and two in Cambria County.
The tax filing season is opening later than usual because of the government shutdown in October.
The government closure meant the IRS had to change the original opening date from Jan. 21 to Jan. 31. The 2014 date is one day later than the 2013 filing season opening.
The 2013 filing season started on Jan. 30, 2013, following January tax law changes made by Congress on Jan. 1 under the American Taxpayer Relief Act.
The April 15 tax deadline is set by statute and will remain in place. However, the IRS reminds taxpayers that anyone can request an automatic six-month extension to file their tax return. The request is easily done with Form 4868, which can be filed electronically or on paper.
Preparers said there are advantages to using a professional tax preparer.
"Every year we get many clients who did it online the year before and did things wrong," Clapper said. "They get a letter from the IRS saying they owe a penalty and interest. There are so many people who take a withdrawal from their 401k or IRA and don't realize it counts as income on their taxes."
"If you do it online, you are just filling out information, Ferry said. "You may not know if you qualify for other credits. We can ask them a series of questions to help determine if they qualify for other credits. We can help people get more of their hard-earned dollars back."
Professional tax preparers have a good knowledge of the tax codes.
"We already understand the tax codes," Fellabaum said. "You are not trying to decipher the tax codes. We are trained to look for all the deductions you may be entitled to. Missing a box on the tax form that needs to be checked can make a big difference on your tax return."
"It is our goal to make sure we get you all of the deductions you are entitled to and that you pay the least amount of tax," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.