Do Your Taxes and E-File for Free with Free File

WASHINGTON — All taxpayers have a fast, safe and free option when it comes to preparing their own federal taxes. It’s called Free File, and it’s available only at IRS.gov.

Free File offers brand-name tax software to people who earned $57,000 or less last year, which is 70 percent of all taxpayers. For those who earned more, there are free online fillable forms. Both options allow people to file returns electronically and use direct deposit, which is the fastest way to get refunds.

The nation’s leading tax software companies have partnered with the IRS to make their products available for free through IRS.gov. Each company sets its own eligibility criteria, generally based on income, state residency, age, military service or eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). There is also a software option that is available in Spanish for people who earned $30,000 or less.
Free File does the hard work for you. The software asks questions; you provide the answers. It picks the right forms, does the math and helps you find all the tax benefits for which you are eligible.
All participating Free File partners have been vetted and use the latest in security technology. Some Free File software providers also offer state tax returns for free or for a fee.

Free File Fillable Forms is the electronic version of IRS paper forms. It’s best for people experienced and comfortable preparing their own returns on paper. It does not support state tax returns.

Some Free File software products also are available in select free tax preparation sites operated by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). Taxpayers can use VITA or TCE computers to access Free File, prepare their own state and federal returns with a trained and certified volunteer on stand-by to help and e-file – all for free.
To find a participating site near you, go to IRS.gov and search for “VITA” to find a self- preparation site location near you.

More than 36 million people have used Free File since it started in 2003. You can explore all your options at http://www.irs.gov/freefile.

Businesses, organizations, states or local governments may want to promote Free File to their employees, customers or clients with products from the IRS. Just go to http://www.freefile.irs.gov/partners to see what you can do to help. There are printable posters, a tax-day countdown widget for websites and prepared social media posts for your use.

Tax Preparers – Are You Getting The Proper Written Consent From Your Clients?

[Stacie says: This information is published by the IRS on their website Aids to Preparing §721 Consent Forms. If you are not already aware of these rules, you better get on it!]

IntroductionTreasury Regulation §301.7216-3(a) states, “Unless section 7216 or §301.7216-2 specifically authorizes the disclosure or use of tax return information, a tax return preparer may not disclose or use a taxpayer’s tax return information prior to obtaining a written consent from the taxpayer…” [emphasis added].

The regulations go on to specify requirements for the consent forms. Revenue Procedure 2008-35 supplements the regulations and prescribes mandatory language required in consent forms depending on the situations under which consents are requested from taxpayers by tax return preparers. The Revenue Procedure also specifies format requirements for the consent forms produced on paper and electronically. The following aids outline seven section 7216 consent situations and the different consent elements relevant to each situation.

Format RequirementsPaper Consent Forms – All paper consent forms must be on 8½ x 11 inch or larger paper and printed in 12 point type (i.e., no more than 12 characters per inch).

Electronic Consent Forms – All consent form screens must pertain solely to the disclosure or use of tax return information authorized by the consent, except for computer navigation tools; text must be at least the same size as, or larger than, the normal or standard body text used by the website or software package for direction, communications or instructions; and there must be sufficient contrast between the text and background colors.

Electronic Signature RequirementsRefer to Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 5.

Required Information and Mandatory LanguageThere are seven situations–six for disclosure and one for use of tax return information–described in the regulations and Revenue Procedure that call for different consent form information requirements and mandatory language. The following aids collect the required information fields and mandatory language for each of the seven situations that form the bases for the applicable consent form. Refer to Treasury Regulations §301.7216-3 and Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for more information and examples of acceptable consent forms.

Disclosure Situation 1

(Consent is sought for disclosure of tax return information in the context of tax return preparation or performance of auxiliary services (for example, where a tax return preparer seeks substantive advice from another tax return preparer which will affect the tax liability reported by a taxpayer); and Tax return information will not be disclosed outside the United States or any territory or possession of the United States)
____________________________________________________________
Federal law requires this consent form be provided to you. Unless authorized by law, we cannot disclose, without your consent, your tax return information to third parties for purposes other than the preparation and filing of your tax return and, in certain limited circumstances, for purposes involving tax return preparation. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal law may not protect your tax return information from further use or distribution.You are not required to complete this form. Because our ability to disclose your tax return information to another tax return preparer affects the service that we provide to you and its cost, we may decline to provide you with service or change the terms of service that we provide to you if you do not sign this form. If you agree to the disclosure of your tax return information, your consent is valid for the amount of time that you specify. If you do not specify the duration of your consent, your consent is valid for one year.

Duration of consent (optional):
I, [insert name of taxpayer] authorize [insert name of tax return preparer] to disclose [specify tax return information to be disclosed] to [identify the recipient of the tax return information] for the purpose of [specify the intent of the disclosure].Note: If there are multiple reasons for requesting disclosures they may all be listed in one consent form. See Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for examples.
If you believe your tax return information has been disclosed or used improperly in a manner unauthorized by law or without your permission, you may contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by telephone at 1-800-366-4484, or by email at complaints@tigta.treas.gov.

Taxpayer Signature:
Date:

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure Situation 2
(Consent is sought for disclosure of tax return information in the context of tax return preparation or performance of auxiliary services; and Tax return information will be disclosed outside the United States or any territory or possession of the United States; Disclosure does not include the taxpayer’s social security number, and Disclosure does not include a document where the social security number is not fully masked or otherwise redacted )

__________________________________________________________
Federal law requires this consent form be provided to you. Unless authorized by law, we cannot disclose, without your consent, your tax return information to third parties for purposes other than the preparation and filing of your tax return and, in certain limited circumstances, for purposes involving tax return preparation. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal law may not protect your tax return information from further use or distribution.You are not required to complete this form. Because our ability to disclose your tax return information to another tax return preparer affects the service that we provide to you and its cost, we may decline to provide you with service or change the terms of service that we provide to you if you do not sign this form. If you agree to the disclosure of your tax return information, your consent is valid for the amount of time that you specify. If you do not specify the duration of your consent, your consent is valid for one year.

This consent to disclose may result in your tax return information being disclosed to a tax return preparer located outside the United States.
I, [INSERT NAME OF TAXPAYER] authorize [INSERT NAME OF TAX RETURN PREPARER] to disclose [SPECIFY TAX RETURN INFORMATION TO BE DISCLOSED] to [IDENTIFY THE RECIPIENT OF THE TAX RETURN INFORMATION] for the purpose of [SPECIFY THE INTENT OF THE DISCLOSURE].Note: If there are multiple reasons for requesting disclosures they may all be listed in one consent form. See Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for examples.
If you believe your tax return information has been disclosed or used improperly in a manner unauthorized by law or without your permission, you may contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by telephone at 1-800-366-4484, or by email at complaints@tigta.treas.gov.
Taxpayer Signature:
Date:
____________________________________________________________

Disclosure Situation 3
(Consent is sought for disclosure of tax return information in the context of tax return preparation or performance of auxiliary services; and Tax return information will be disclosed outside the United States or any territory or possession of the United States Disclosure includes the taxpayer’s social security number, or
Disclosure includes a document where the social security number is not fully masked or otherwise redacted Note that in order to disclose a taxpayer’s social security number to a tax return preparer located outside of the United States, both the tax return preparer located within the United States and the tax return preparer located outside of the United States must maintain an adequate data protection safeguard at the time the taxpayer’s consent is obtained and when making the disclosure. Rev. Proc. 2008-35 § 4.07.
An exception to the consent requirement exists where a tax return preparer located within the United States initially receives a social security number from a tax return preparer located outside of the United States and the preparer within the United States retransmits the social security number to the preparer that initially provided it. Treas. Reg. § 301.7216-3(b)(4). )
________________________________________________________________________________

Federal law requires this consent form be provided to you. Unless authorized by law, we cannot disclose, without your consent, your tax return information to third parties for purposes other than the preparation and filing of your tax return and, in certain limited circumstances, for purposes involving tax return preparation. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal law may not protect your tax return information from further use or distribution.You are not required to complete this form. Because our ability to disclose your tax return information to another tax return preparer affects the service that we provide to you and its cost, we may decline to provide you with service or change the terms of service that we provide to you if you do not sign this form. If you agree to the disclosure of your tax return information, your consent is valid for the amount of time that you specify. If you do not specify the duration of your consent, your consent is valid for one year.

Duration of Consent (optional):
This consent to disclose may result in your tax return information being disclosed to a tax return preparer located outside the United States, including your personally identifiable information such as your Social Security Number (“SSN”). Both the tax return preparer in the United States that will disclose your SSN and the tax return preparer located outside the United States which will receive your SSN maintain an adequate data protection safeguard (as required by the regulations under 26 U.S.C. Section 7216) to protect privacy and prevent unauthorized access of tax return information. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal agencies may not be able to enforce U.S. laws that protect the privacy of your tax return information against a tax return preparer located outside of the U.S. to which the information is disclosed.

I, [INSERT NAME OF TAXPAYER] authorize [INSERT NAME OF TAX RETURN PREPARER] to disclose [SPECIFY TAX RETURN INFORMATION TO BE DISCLOSED] to [IDENTIFY THE RECIPIENT OF THE TAX RETURN INFORMATION] for the purpose of [SPECIFY THE INTENT OF THE DISCLOSURE].Note: If there are multiple reasons for requesting disclosures they may all be listed in one consent form. See Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for examples.
If you believe your tax return information has been disclosed or used improperly in a manner unauthorized by law or without your permission, you may contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by telephone at 1-800-366-4484, or by email at

complaints@tigta.treas.gov.

Taxpayer Signature:
Date:
______________________________________________________________
Disclosure Situation 4
(Consent is sought for disclosure of tax return information in the context other than tax return preparation or performance of auxiliary services; and
Tax return information will not be disclosed outside the United States or any territory or possession of the United States)
_____________________________________________________________
Federal law requires this consent form be provided to you. Unless authorized by law, we cannot disclose, without your consent, your tax return information to third parties for purposes other than the preparation and filing of your tax return. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal law may not protect your tax return information from further use or distribution.You are not required to complete this form. If we obtain your signature on this form by conditioning our services on your consent, your consent will not be valid. If you agree to the disclosure of your tax return information, your consent is valid for the amount of time that you specify. If you do not specify the duration of your consent, your consent is valid for one year.
Duration of Consent (optional):

I, [INSERT NAME OF TAXPAYER] authorize [INSERT NAME OF TAX RETURN PREPARER] to disclose [SPECIFY TAX RETURN INFORMATION TO BE DISCLOSED] to [IDENTIFY THE RECIPIENT OF THE TAX RETURN INFORMATION] for the purpose of [SPECIFY THE INTENT OF THE DISCLOSURE].Note: If there are multiple reasons for requesting disclosures they may all be listed in one consent form. See Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for examples.

If you believe your tax return information has been disclosed or used improperly in a manner unauthorized by law or without your permission, you may contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by telephone at 1-800-366-4484, or by email at
complaints@tigta.treas.gov.
Taxpayer Signature:
Date:
_______________________________________________________________
Disclosure Situation 5
(Consent is sought for disclosure of tax return information in the context other than tax return preparation or performance of auxiliary services; and
Tax return information will be disclosed outside the United States or any Territory or possession of the United States
Disclosure does not include the taxpayer’s social security number, and
Disclosure does not include a document where the social security number is not fully masked or otherwise redacted )

_______________________________________________________________________________

Federal law requires this consent form be provided to you. Unless authorized by law, we cannot disclose, without your consent, your tax return information to third parties for purposes other than the preparation and filing of your tax return. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal law may not protect your tax return information from further use or distribution.You are not required to complete this form. If we obtain your signature on this form by conditioning our services on your consent, your consent will not be valid. If you agree to the disclosure of your tax return information, your consent is valid for the amount of time that you specify. If you do not specify the duration of your consent, your consent is valid for one year.


Duration of Consent (optional):

This consent to disclose may result in your tax return information being disclosed to a tax return preparer located outside the United States.
I, [INSERT NAME OF TAXPAYER] authorize [INSERT NAME OF TAX RETURN PREPARER] to disclose [SPECIFY TAX RETURN INFORMATION TO BE DISCLOSED] to [IDENTIFY THE RECIPIENT OF THE TAX RETURN INFORMATION] for the purpose of [SPECIFY THE INTENT OF THE DISCLOSURE].`Note: If there are multiple reasons for requesting disclosures they may all be listed in one consent form. See Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for examples.
If you believe your tax return information has been disclosed or used improperly in a manner unauthorized by law or without your permission, you may contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by telephone at 1-800-366-4484, or by email at

complaints@tigta.treas.gov.

Taxpayer Signature:
Date:
_____________________________________________________________
Disclosure Situation 6
(Consent is sought for disclosure of tax return information in the context other than tax return preparation or performance of auxiliary services; and
Tax return information will be disclosed outside the United States or any territory or possession of the United States
Disclosure includes the taxpayer’s social security number, orDisclosure includes a document where the social security number is not fully masked or otherwise redacted
Note that in order to disclose a taxpayer’s social security number to a tax return preparer located outside of the United States, both the tax return preparer located within the United States and the tax return preparer located outside of the United States must maintain an adequate data protection safeguard at the time the taxpayer’s consent is obtained and when making the disclosure. Rev. Proc. 2008-35 § 4.07 )
____________________________________________________________________________
Federal law requires this consent form be provided to you. Unless authorized by law, we cannot disclose, without your consent, your tax return information to third parties for purposes other than the preparation and filing of your tax return. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal law may not protect your tax return information from further use or distribution.You are not required to complete this form. If we obtain your signature on this form by conditioning our services on your consent, your consent will not be valid. If you agree to the disclosure of your tax return information, your consent is valid for the amount of time that you specify. If you do not specify the duration of your consent, your consent is valid for one year.

Duration of consent (optional):

This consent to disclose may result in your tax return information being disclosed to a tax return preparer located outside the United States, including your personally identifiable information such as your Social Security Number (“SSN”). Both the tax return preparer in the United States that will disclose your SSN and the tax return preparer located outside the United States which will receive your SSN maintain an adequate data protection safeguard (as required by the regulations under 26 U.S.C. Section 7216) to protect privacy and prevent unauthorized access of tax return information. If you consent to the disclosure of your tax return information, Federal agencies may not be able to enforce U.S. laws that protect the privacy of your tax return information against a tax return preparer located outside of the U.S. to which the information is disclosed.
I, [INSERT NAME OF TAXPAYER] authorize [INSERT NAME OF TAX RETURN PREPARER] to disclose [SPECIFY TAX RETURN INFORMATION TO BE DISCLOSED] to [IDENTIFY THE RECIPIENT OF THE TAX RETURN INFORMATION] for the purpose of [SPECIFY THE INTENT OF THE DISCLOSURE].Note: If there are multiple reasons for requesting disclosures they may all be listed in one consent form. See Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for examples.
If you believe your tax return information has been disclosed or used improperly in a manner unauthorized by law or without your permission, you may contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by telephone at 1-800-366-4484, or by email at

complaints@tigta.treas.gov.

Taxpayer Signature:

Date:
_______________________________________________________________
Disclosure Situation 7
Use – All Situations
(Consent is sought for use of tax return information under any circumstance)
_______________________________________________________________
Federal law requires this consent form be provided to you. Unless authorized by law, we cannot use, without your consent, your tax return information for purposes other than the preparation and filing of your tax return.You are not required to complete this form. If we obtain your signature on this form by conditioning our services on your consent, your consent will not be valid. Your consent is valid for the amount of time that you specify. If you do not specify the duration of your consent, your consent is valid for one year.

Duration of Consent (optional):

I, [INSERT NAME OF TAXPAYER] authorize [INSERT NAME OF TAX RETURN PREPARER] to use [SPECIFY TAX RETURN INFORMATION TO BE USED] for the purpose of [DESCRIBE AUTHORIZED USE].Note: If there are multiple reasons for requesting consent to use tax return information they may all be listed in one consent form. See Revenue Procedure 2008-35, section 6 for examples.

If you believe your tax return information has been disclosed or used improperly in a manner unauthorized by law or without your permission, you may contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by telephone at 1-800-366-4484, or by email at complaints@tigta.treas.gov.

Taxpayer Signature:
Date:

IRS Page Last Reviewed or Updated: December 18, 2008

Unenrolled Preparers – IRS Wants Your Comments -Tax Payer Standards

[Stacie says: Okay – Here is your chance to join in the discussion. Of course you will need to travel to Chicago, might be worth it though.]

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced the third and final public forum to gather input on tax return preparer standards will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 30, in Chicago. It will feature two panels of representatives from the software and unenrolled preparer industries and be moderated by IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.

Shulman announced a review of paid preparers on June 4 to produce a comprehensive set of recommendations by the end of this year to boost taxpayer compliance and strengthen industry standards.

The forum will convene at 9 a.m. CT in the J.R. Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601, in the lower level auditorium. Anyone interested in attending should confirm attendance by sending an e-mail message to CL.NPL.Communications@irs.gov.

The first public forum was held on July 30 in Washington, D.C., and featured a panel of consumer groups and another panel of tax professional organizations. A second forum was held in D.C. on Sept. 2 featuring federal and state government agencies.

The IRS issued Notice 2009-60 on July 24 as an added call for public comments to ensure that all interested individuals and entities have the opportunity to contribute ideas. More than 450 comments were received by the deadline of Aug. 31, 2009.

Related information:

IR-2009-57
IR-2009-66
IR-2009-68
IR-2009-74
Comments from July 30 Forum
Comments from September 2 Forum

Fake CPA and Partner Busted

Here is a good reason why its important to pick the right CPA.

FTB News Release September 2009 -The owner of a Glendale tax preparation business and his colleague were arrested on multiple felony charges including elder financial abuse, grand theft, state income tax evasion, and state income tax fraud related to their roles in a bogus securities investment scheme, we announced on August 5, 2009.

Donald R. Ford, of Glendale, and Gregory A. Edwards, of Culver City, were remanded into custody after their arraignment Friday. Ford allegedly persuaded clients, whose trust he had gained from his tax preparation business, to invest in a phony investment scheme. Ford, who posed as a certified public accountant and Edwards allegedly, scammed investors by promising them high rates of return on investments. Instead, Ford and Edwards used the money for their own financial gain.

Ford earned more than $1.3 million in income from the unlawful scheme and Edwards earned more than $961,000 for his role in the scam. Ford allegedly failed to report this income on his 2002 and 2006 state income tax returns and owes the state more than $231,000 in unpaid tax, penalties, and interest. Edwards allegedly failed to report his income on his 2006 state income tax return and owes the state more than $81,000 in unpaid tax. All income is taxable including income from illegal sources.
Ford and Edwards were both booked into the Los Angeles County Jail and are still in custody. Their bail is set at $100,000 each. Their next court appearance has not been set.

The filing of false tax returns and the failure to file tax returns is part of the annual $6.5 billion tax gap facing California. The tax gap is defined as the difference between taxes that are owed and what is paid.

CPAs are licensed by the state. The public can check on the status of a CPA with the California Board of Accountancy atcba.ca.gov or by calling 916.263.3680. The IRS and FTB have recently issued a brochure, FTB Publication 982, How to Select an Income Tax Return Preparer where taxpayers can learn more about choosing a tax professional.

This is a joint investigation between Department of Justice (DOJ) and us. DOJ Deputy Attorney General Edward Skelly is prosecuting this case.

Choosing a Tax Preparer

Published by the IRS

If you will be paying someone to do your tax return, choose a tax preparer wisely. You are legally responsible for what’s on your tax returns even if they are prepared by someone else. So, it’s important to find a qualified tax professional.

The most reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for expenses, deductions, and other items. By doing so, they have your best interest in mind and are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest, or additional taxes that could result from later IRS contacts.

Most tax return preparers are professional, honest and provide excellent service to their clients; you can use the following tips to choose a preparer who will offer the best service for their tax preparation needs.

Find out what the service fees are before the return is prepared. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of your refund or who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.

Only use a tax professional that signs your tax return and provides you with a copy for your records.

Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.

Choose a tax preparer that will be around to answer questions after the return has been filed.
Ask questions. Do you know anyone who has used the tax professional? Were they satisfied with the service they received?

Check to see if the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for CPAs or the state’s bar association for attorneys. Find out if the preparer belongs to a professional organization that requires its members to pursue continuing education and also holds them accountable to a code of ethics.

Determine if the preparer’s credentials meet your needs. Does your state have licensing or registration requirements for paid preparers? Is he or she an Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant, or Attorney? If so, the preparer can represent taxpayers before the IRS on all matters – including audits, collections, and appeals. Other return preparers can represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return signed as a preparer.

Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions.

You can report suspected tax fraud and abusive tax preparers to the IRS on Form 3949-A, Information Referral or by sending a letter to Internal Revenue Service, Fresno, CA 93888. Download Form 3949-A from IRS.gov or order by mail at 800-829-3676.
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