Avoiding problems when paying taxes

The time and energy spent filling out paperwork can make tax time stressful. Depending on how you file, tax time can also be expensive. If you have questions about filing your taxes, consider our time and money-saving tips. 

Q: How do I file my taxes?

The easiest and fastest way to file your taxes is through the IRS website. The site links to many companies that will efile your federal tax return for free. Some of these services require payment for filing state taxes. 

You can also file by mail. Download the forms from the IRS website or get them from your local library branch. You'll need the Form 1040, 1040EZ, or 1040A depending on the complexity of your return.

Q. Can I get free help to file my taxes?

Yes! If you made $57,000 or less, you may use one of the free efile services available through the IRS website. Many states support free efiling through the state's department of revenue website.

The IRS also sponsors free tax preparation services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Call 1-800-906-9887 to find a VITA site near you, and make sure your tax preparer is accredited by the IRS or your state department of revenue.

The IRS has free tools and a Frequently Asked Questions guide online. You can also call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for individual returns, and 1-800-829-4933 for business returns.

Q. If I make more than $57,000, can I file for free?

Yes. Search online for "free tax preparation" to find Internet-based and volunteer services.

Q. If I pay someone to do my taxes, what should I watch out for?

You could be dealing with an unscrupulous return preparer if they:

  • Do not sign or do not include their Preparer Tax Identification Number on your return.
  • Do not give you a copy of your tax return.
  • Promise a larger than normal tax refund.
  • Charge a percentage of the refund amount as a preparation fee (there should be a flat fee).
  • Add forms to the return you have never filed before.
  • Encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.

Q. What are the “instant” tax rebates I see offered?

In reality, there is no way to immediately receive your refund from the IRS. "Instant" refunds offered by some tax services are often Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). Although they may seem appealing, RALs have large fees and interest rates of up to 37%. Advertisements for RALs must accurately list all associated costs and services charges, as well as the charges for tax preparation and electronic filing.

Q. What is the fastest way to get my tax refund?

Select direct deposit when you efile online. You can track the status of your tax return on the IRS website

Q. I received an email from the IRS, asking for personal information. Is it real?

No; the IRS does not initiate email correspondence with taxpayers. Identity thieves often send official-looking, fake emails informing recipients that they must click on a link that takes them to a website asking for their personal information. All such requests are phishing scams. Report suspected phishing to the IRS

Q. How can I avoid an identity theft tax scam?

There are several warning signs:

  1. Beware email attachments, because legitimate tax companies will rarely ask you to open one.
  2. Emails that mention a tax refund or threaten an audit are often fraudulent attempts to obtain your personal information.
  3. Misspellings, incorrect use of official names, poor grammar, and odd phrasing are indications that a communication is fraudulent.
  4. Taxpayers should ignore unsolicited communications asking for personal and/or financial information, e.g. your name, Social Security Number, bank account number, or credit card number.

Q. How do I know if I am a victim of identity theft?

If multiple tax returns have been filed in your name or the IRS believes you were paid by an employer whom you aren’t familiar with, someone may have used your personal information to submit false tax returns. 

Q. What should I do if I think my identity has been stolen?

Immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For more information, visit www.IRS.gov/identitytheft or call 1-800-908-4490.

Issue updates

Report | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

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It’s that time of year again when parents, grandparents, caregivers and others feeling generous begin shopping for toys for the kids in their lives. Toy safety has come a long way, thanks to years of work from consumer advocates, public health experts, elected officials and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These days, examples of dangerous toys contaminated with lead or toys with small parts that pose a choking hazard to young children are more difficult to find in the United States.

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FTC settles first case against VoIP provider for allowing illegal robocalls

This FTC settlement must be a wake-up call to phone service providers so they do more to protect consumers. If not, the FTC must be vigilant in going after companies that enable the immoral practice of preying on consumers. And the FCC should require providers to block spoofed calls that we all know are scams.

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

35th annual Trouble in Toyland report uncovers mislabeled and dangerous toys

MASSPIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

New report: COVID-19 pandemic worsens existing consumer problems with car buying

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> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

FTC settles first case against VoIP provider for allowing illegal robocalls

This FTC settlement must be a wake-up call to phone service providers so they do more to protect consumers. If not, the FTC must be vigilant in going after companies that enable the immoral practice of preying on consumers. And the FCC should require providers to block spoofed calls that we all know are scams.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Americans need stronger consumer protections during COVID-19 crisis

U.S. PIRG Education Fund has released a report with the Student Borrower Protection Center and Consumer Action. The report makes recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to upgrade its consumer complaint tool, including the public consumer complaint database, so COVID19-related complaints can be handled more quickly and tracked better.

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Report | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2020

It’s that time of year again when parents, grandparents, caregivers and others feeling generous begin shopping for toys for the kids in their lives. Toy safety has come a long way, thanks to years of work from consumer advocates, public health experts, elected officials and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These days, examples of dangerous toys contaminated with lead or toys with small parts that pose a choking hazard to young children are more difficult to find in the United States.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Auto Loan Complaints on the Rise

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> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach: 1 Year Later

A year ago, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers. To mark the anniversary of that notorious announcement, MASSPIRG called on state lawmakers to pass the pending Security Breach Bill, H4806,  and released a new report containing suggestions on how lawmakers, regulators, and consumers can safeguard personal information.

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Blog Post | Consumer Tips, COVID-19, Consumer Protection

Is your mortgage forbearance ending? | Teresa Murray

If the COVID-19 pandemic affects your ability to pay, here’s what you need to know

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Tips on Preventing ID theft | Deirdre Cummings

In light of recent, high profile data breaches at Marriott and Quora and a new government report about Equifax’s breach, MASSPIRG and U.S. PIRG Education Fund is launching an online campaign to protect consumers as they use their credit and debit cards to travel and buy gifts this holiday season.

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Report | MASSPIRG

It’s that time of year again when parents, grandparents, caregivers and others feeling generous begin shopping for toys for the kids in their lives. Toy safety has come a long way, thanks to years of work from consumer advocates, public health experts, elected officials and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These days, examples of dangerous toys contaminated with lead or toys with small parts that pose a choking hazard to young children are more difficult to find in the United States.

Despite this progress, dangerous toys are still on the market. As we approach the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents and caregivers in the United States still work from home while their kids participate in virtual learning some or all of the time. With siblings of all ages playing and spending more time together and parents juggling responsibilities with limited support, some dangerous toys are more difficult to supervise, and others are better left out of the home altogether.

News Release | MASSPIRG

MASSPIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards.

News Release | MASSPIRG

BOSTON -- Consumer complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regarding vehicle loans and leases have increased sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group. The analysis suggests that consumers in Massachusetts and across the United States are facing abusive and deceptive practices from the automobile lending industry. 

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund

Consumer complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regarding vehicle loans and leases have increased sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group.

Blog Post

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