MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis - Money Matters - Consumer Action


Feature Articles: Taxes

Preparing Taxes: Using VITA Sites and Paid Preparers

Reviewed and adapted with special permission from the IRS by: Brenda Procter, M.S., State Specialist & Instructor Personal Financial Planning, University of Missouri Extension

A great way to save money at tax time is to have your taxes prepared for FREE.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites provide free tax preparation. Some VITA sites can electronically file or E-file your tax return. Your refund can be deposited directly into your bank account within 7-10 days. If you don't have a bank account, open one up to take advantage of direct deposit. For the nearest VITA sites, call the IRS at 1-800-TAX-1040 or Answers, Please! at 202-463-6211.

If you do not have a bank account, the IRS will mail you a check in just a few weeks. Check cashers may charge an extra fee to cash your tax refund check. Save your money by depositing the refund into your bank account!

How much can you expect to pay a commercial tax preparer?

On average, a person will spend $100 to get a tax return prepared. In addition, paid preparers often advertise "Fast Cash Refunds" or "Instant Refunds." Don't be fooled! Many of the quick refunds are LOANS, refund anticipation loans (RALs). When you get an RAL, you're borrowing against your refund, not getting your refund ealier. RALs are expensive and can cost up to $100. Ask for a list of fees up front.

How should you choose and work with a paid preparer?

These guidelines will help you choose and work with a paid preparer. Make sure to bring this checklist with you when having your taxes prepared.

  1. Choose a preparer who has a permanent office and will be around if there is a problem with your tax return. Ask friends and neighbors who they use and trust. Also, the preparer should be properly trained. Ask how recently the preparer took classes.
  2. Check with the Better Business Bureau or your state's board of accountancy for CPAs, bar association for attorneys or Attorney General's office to be sure your preparer does not have a questionable history.
  3. Ask about the fees up front, before the tax return is prepared. Ask if there are any costs for additional schedules (like EITC) or forms. Ask about fees for refund loans.
  4. If possible, pay preparation and filing fees by cash or check instead of asking the preparer to take the fees out of your refund.
  5. Avoid anyone who suggests you lie or fudge figures. You will be responsible for errors.
  6. Do not sign a tax return that is blank or completed in pencil. Sign the return only after you have reviewed it with your preparer to be sure there are no mistakes. Before signing, check your name, address and Social Security Number to be sure they are accurate.
  7. Make sure the preparer signs your completed return and includes an address and Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Social Security Number. This is required by law!
  8. Even if you have given the IRS authority in a power of attorney to mail your return to a preparer or other representative, you are the only one who can sign and cash your refund check.
  9. Make copies of all the documents you give the preparer and get a copy of your completed return and keep it.

Avoid preparers who:

  • claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
  • base their fee on a percentage of the amount of the refund.
  • won't provide references from other clients who have used them in the past.
  • won't provide a copy of all prepared forms for the client.

Using a preparer who is certified and affiliated with a professional organization may also be helpful.

Report suspected tax fraud and abusive return preparers to the nearest IRS office, either by telephone at toll-free 1-800-829-0433 or in writing to the local IRS office. You can find the local IRS offices on the IRS Website.


Information provided by Idara Nickelson, Policy Analyst, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities,
Adapted from IRS Tax Tip 2005-07.




University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri


Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009