Tax season is hectic for everyone. It involves organizing piles of receipts and tax documents; completing confusing forms; hiring a reputable accountant; and getting all of this done by April 15th! But for those of us with vision loss it can be even more stressful since most receipts and paperwork come in small print that is difficult, if not impossible to read. It can require finding an honest and trustworthy person to assist us with combing through private and financial information in order to help us file our taxes. So what can we do as people with vision loss to get ready for tax season? I have listed below some useful tips, resources and information to help relieve some of the stress and frustration.
Before actually filing your taxes it is important to get organized. Get your receipts, papers and IRS forms together. Organized them in file folders that you can access either by using braille or large print labels. This is especially important if you will be itemizing your income tax deductions.
After you get all paperwork organized, next decide how you will file your return. Will you do your own filing? Hire an accountant to do the work? Or use the VITA/AARP Tax Program at your local library, church or senior center? If you decide to file your own tax return the IRS has accessible forms that you can download from their website. They have forms in large print, braille, or ASCII text and HTML versions for assistive technology users. There is also the option of e-filing on the Internet. But be aware that even though it has become very popular, many e-filing sites are not accessible to people who use screen readers or magnification software. Before you start using an online tax program, make sure you can easily navigate it using your assistive technology. For more information on e-filing check out these two resources: Fred's Head blog from the American Printing House for the Blind and AccessWorld review of IRS Free File.
If you decide to hire an accountant ask around to friends and family. Word of mouth is a good way to get a referral. Additionally the IRS has good tips on hiring a creditable accountant. Once you're working with an accountant you trust, ask him or her to prepare your taxes using large print forms, or another accessible format, so that you can review your return before you sign it. Take the time with the accountant to review the tax form once it has been completed to be sure everything is correct. Although you are hiring an accountant to do your taxes, you are still responsible for the filing of your return
But if you want to get free tax assistance, the VITA/AARP Tax-Aide program offers tax preparation help from February 1 through April 15th. I have used the VITA program for several years and have found it quite helpful when getting my taxes done. The volunteers are very professional and thorough. Some of them are retired IRS employees making them familiar with tax laws and regulations. They usually have one person to prepare your taxes and another person to double check and review for any mistakes or errors before completing the final processing and signing the documents.
One special thing to keep in mind, is that if you are legally blind, indicate that on your tax form. This status can allow you to qualify for a higher deduction. Additionally, devices related to blindness can be a deduction such as braille note takers, paper, embossers, items for a guide dog, assistive technology, etc. Be sure to double check this information when filing your return because every little tax break can help.
If you are expecting a federal refund, you can check its status through the "Where's My Refund?" tool on the IRS web site. According to the IRS, this online tool is accessible to taxpayers who use the JAWS screen reader alone or when used with a Braille display which is compatible with different versions of JAWS. If you do not have internet access, you can check the status of your refund by calling the IRS TeleTax System at 800-829-4477 or the IRS Refund Hotline at 800-829-1954. When calling, you must provide a social security number for you or your spouse, your filing status, and the exact refund amount shown on your return.
One last and final thing I want to make you aware of is the increasing volume of tax-related identity fraud. It involves using your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return in someone else's name. The purpose is to collect a tax refund before you have had an opportunity to file your real tax return. For more information visit the IRS' Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft. Additionally, the IRS has put out a listing of tax scams call the Dirty Dozen that is also important to be aware of.
I hope the above tips were helpful to you in preparing to file your taxes. So, how do you file your taxes? Do you do them yourself? Hire an accountant or use the VITA/AARP Program? Are you aware of tax-related fraud? Have you put things in place to protect yourself from this kind of fraud? Share your thoughts and comments about tax preparation in the section below.