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Tax pros say 2012 was a 'confusing' year

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Local tax professionals say that an unusual 2012 tax year may mean more questions from taxpayers as they prepare to file their returns.

Two local tax agencies offered up things to remember and some advice for taxpayers as they try to understand tax changes that took place in 2012, one of which involved the IRS pushing back the filing date for accepting returns, meaning taxpayers, no matter how they file, will see delays in receiving refunds.

According to information provided by Lisa Patterson, media relations with H & R Block, there are four key items to remember when filing taxes this year:

* The payroll tax holiday we all enjoyed in 2011 and 2012 has expired. While it doesn't impact the tax return, it is important to note that 160 million American workers will see their take-home pay decrease.

* Energy credits have been extended.

* Education tax breaks have been extended.

* Health care reform- Open enrollment for health insurance offered through government-sponsored exchanges opens in October 2013. When enrolling in exchange-offered insurance, individuals will go through an income verification process to determine if they are eligible for a subsidy to cover some of the cost. The 2012 tax return, if filed, will be used in the income verification process. While not required, using a tax return for income verification is the simplest way for most individuals to enroll.

With media coverage of the 'fiscal cliff' settling and the Internal Revenue Service starting to accept 2012 tax returns, taxpayers may need more help than usual to understand what the tax changes mean to them and what steps they should take as they prepare to file, a news release said.

"The year 2012 was very confusing for taxpayers," Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Franchisee Everett Hixson said in the release. "The presidential elections were filled with talks of 'Taxmageddon,' followed by the 'fiscal cliff' media coverage. Because of those congressional negotiations and their impact on this year's tax laws, the IRS pushed back the filing date when it would accept tax returns to the end of January. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 has further complicated the tax laws, making it even more difficult for taxpayers to 'go it alone' and still receive every deduction and credit to which they are entitled."

"The IRS did not start accepting returns until Jan. 30," Local H & R Block representative Debra Anderson said. "They're estimating 21 days to process refunds so there (was) no way of getting it (refund) in January."

Area Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Manager Suzy Chatman said the key to navigating this year's tax season successfully is starting as early as possible and being well prepared.

Chatman recommends the following:

* Now that the IRS filing date has arrived, taxpayers should gather their documents and meet with a tax preparer to start their returns. A certified preparer will make sure they understand how this year's changes will affect the outcome of their returns - not only this year, but next year as well. Trained and certified preparers can offer their expertise to ensure that taxpayers will get every deducation and credit they're entitled to receive.

* Taxpayers should keep all of their documents together, including last year's return. Staying organized will help streamline the filing process.

* Another benefit of filing early is prevention of identity theft, which is a growing problem. Every tax return contains personal and financial information that must be safeguarded. The earlier a return is filed, the smaller the risk that information could fall into the hands of an identity thief who might try to file a false return in the taxpayer's name.

Certified tax services provide safeguards to keep that private information secure and safe, the release said.

"This is the first year the IRS tax return acceptance date has been nearly the same as the W-2 distribution day," Hixson said. "We anticipate that this is going to create a lot of tax activity, so we encourage taxpayers to get ahead of the curve and file as early as possible."

The information provided by Patterson said the later-than-normal first day to e-file tax returns has those taxpayers expecting tax refunds waiting longer than usual for them. This change of date means there was no chance of getting refunds in January. Knowing about this delay can help taxpayers prepare to make the wait less taxing.

"If they filed in January, it was put on hold until the IRS was accepting," Anderson said. "In the past, it only took three or four days (to process refunds). They can't count on that this year."

Anderson said the local office has been flooded recently with people coming in to file their tax returns.

"We are just absolutely booked," she said. "We've been getting appointments. We've had a huge volume in the last few weeks."

According to IRS data, about 18 million total taxpayers typically file a tax return in January with 98 percent of those receiving a refund. With refunds now coming several weeks later, those who can afford it the least are impacted the most.

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