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Tax Time: Choose Your Preparer Carefully

Filing income tax returns can feel overwhelming, but free help is available for many in Michigan. (stevepb/pixabay)
Filing income tax returns can feel overwhelming, but free help is available for many in Michigan. (stevepb/pixabay)
February 16, 2016

LANSING, Mich. - It's that time of year when Uncle Sam wants his share, but financial experts want to make sure Michiganders aren't giving away any of their hard-earned money in the process.

According to the National Society of Accountants, the average family spends anywhere from $150 to $450 on income-tax preparation.

And Ross Yednock, program director with the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition, says because the multi-billion dollar tax preparation industry is unregulated, it can be tough to know exactly what you're paying for.

"The vast majority of people don't have very complicated taxes," says Yednock. "And don't need to be shelling out $300 or $400, particularly when you can go to an IRS-certified tax volunteer and get them done for free."

People earning $54,000 a year or less can receive free, in-person tax preparation assistance at sites across the state, and households bringing in less than $62,000 can file federal taxes online, also free, with the help of a trained volunteer by phone.

Sites can be found by dialing 2-1-1 or at MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org."

Awakon Federal Credit Union has offered free tax preparation to its members for several years, and this year, it joined many credit unions in partnering with the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program to open the service to the entire community.

Dawn Bodnar, marketing and community development director at the credit union, says the response has been eye-opening.

"It literally takes our preparers 10 or 15 minutes, and then they walk out and they have it completely done," she says. "And they've said they've saved between $250 and $450. So, that's a big chunk of change."

Yednock adds it should raise a red flag if any tax preparer claims they can get you "the most" money back.

"Whether you go to a free place, whether you pay $200, whether you pay $500, if they're following the law, the tax return, the amount that you'll get back or the amount you pay, is going to be the same, no matter where you go," he says.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI