While no one particularly likes filing taxes, the sooner you do it, the safer you are. To make the stressful and confusing process easier and safer, the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific compiled tips to keep you on track. We’ll help you understand what tax preparation options are available and show you what to look for — and avoid — this tax season. 

After all, this is Tax Theft Awareness Week. It’s a time to tackle the hassle so you can save more and stress less. 

First, Know your options. Before diving into tax preparation, investigate your filing options. You may qualify for no-cost assistance. This is good news! If you meet certain income requirements, you may be eligible for free tax preparation services. To see if you qualify, visit irs.gov/freefile. For state tax information, visit the Montana Department of Revenue at mtrevenue.gov/taxes to see your best filing options. 

Low-cost online and software assistance. Are you planning to file your own taxes? If so, tax software or an online filing website may be in your best interest. Both provide you with step-by-step instructions and help protect your personal identity during the filing process. Many also offer products you can use all year long to manage your budget, like TurboTax from BBB Accredited Intuit. The company produces QuickBooks and the Mint app, which help you track spending and tax info all year long. No matter what service you choose, make sure you understand the fees for filing before you get started. 

Professional assistance. An experienced tax professional is your best choice if you’re uncomfortable handling your own taxes, you have multiple deductions, you are a freelance contractor or you’re self-employed. The advantages of paying a pro include assistance if you are audited and access to in-person help throughout the filing process. There are a number of BBB accredited tax professionals throughout the state of Montana. Find a company to trust at bbb.org

Service combinations. Some providers offer a combination of online and in-person advice. This is a great way to go if you can do part, but not all, of your taxes. For example, you may have a part-time job with W-2 forms that make filing most of your taxes easy; but you also run an afternoon daycare, and you’d like to get hands-on help from a local tax preparer. Visiting with a professional in person can help mitigate the stress and uncertainty tax season causes. 

Remember, not all tax preparers are the same. Qualifications are key when it comes to selecting a tax professional. Professional tax preparers must have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number in order to do business. In addition, it’s wise to look for a certified public accountant, attorney, or for an enrolled IRS agent to get the job done.

Once you nail down the best way to file your taxes, Watch out for scams! 

Tax scams are some of the largest frauds facing consumers today. To help keep your personal information safe this tax season, be sure to watch out for:

Pros who overpromise. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition. Avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund. 

Tax experts who suggest you get an anticipation loan. It may be great news to learn from your tax preparer that you’ll be receiving a refund from the IRS. But don’t be tempted to pay for an advance so you can get the funds more quickly. This option can eat up a large chunk of your refund because you pay it to the preparer as a commission. Instead, opt to have your refund deposited directly into your checking or savings account. Processing can be quick these days. And it is better to wait for the funds rather than pay for an advance. 

Calls and emails pretending to be the IRS. Be wary of any communication you receive claiming to be from the IRS that requests payment. The IRS will never call or email you to settle a bill. Any request to settle a tax bill using an odd form of payment or demanding payment via telephone or email is a scam. 

Tax-related identity theft. This scam occurs when someone steals your Social Security number and files a tax return to claim your refund — before you are able to do so. The IRS recommends using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating your digital device’s security and changing passwords for Internet accounts frequently — as well as filing your taxes early — as effective modes of prevention.

Let our BBB resources help you prevent tax season headaches and get your return filed quickly and accurately. Research professions and products, check user reviews and ratings, and look for active local scams at bbb.org

Hannah Stiff is the Montana Marketplace Manager for BBB Northwest + Pacific. She can be reached at Hannah.stiff@thebbb.org.