Tax forms

It’s tax season, but did you know that you may not have to pay to file your taxes online?

It’s that time of year again when you collect tax documents from the various places that pay your wages, or hold on to your money, and anything else you might do with regards to income. It’s also the time of year when scammers double their efforts.

Every spring, scammers change their story from whatever they thought was going to work at the time to "You owe money to the IRS." Be prepared to receive text messages, emails and phone calls from people who sound like an authority telling you that you owe the IRS. If you don’t pay you’ll be fined or arrested.

The IRS will not communicate with you that way, they’ll send you a physical letter via the post office. If you receive unsolicited phone calls, text messages or emails, you can safely ignore those. Further, you will not be arrested for not paying your taxes unless you’ve been skipping them for years. And by then you’ll know it. You’ll have received several letters in the mail. The IRS does not want you to go to jail if it can help it. You can’t pay your taxes if you end up in jail.

Another easy way to determine if the communication is really from the IRS is how it asks you to pay. The IRS only accepts U.S. dollars. It does not accept gift cards as a form of payment. If you’ve been asked to purchase a gift card to pay taxes that you owe, ignore the request. If you see someone buying gift cards to pay the IRS, try to convince them not to. Every year thousands of people fall for this scam, many of them elderly who don’t have room in their budget to lose hundreds of dollars to scams.

You also should know that if you make less than $66,000 per year, you can prepare and file your taxes for free. Companies such as Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, have spent millions lobbying the federal government to ensure that the IRS does not create its own tax preparation software. Part of their agreement with the government is that they provide free tax filing, but they do a really good job of making it difficult to find where and how you can file your taxes for free.

You could try googling "free tax filing" and you’ll find a lot of ads at the top of the page from TurboTax and others claiming to let you file for free. But when you actually go through the hassle of entering all of your information, they’ll still try to charge you and there’s no option to not pay. In fact, the free filing program from TurboTax isn’t available at turbotax.com.

The free tax filing program from TurboTax is called TurboTax Freedom. If you google, that you should see it as one of the top links (probably an ad). But clicking on that takes you to yet another deceptive webpage and you could end up entering your information only to have to back out because it tries to charge you again.

The quickest way to find free filing tax services is to click on the IRS link in those search results, or just visit apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile. The IRS keeps a list of all companies that provide free tax filing options, and clicking on one of those will get you to where you need to go.

In fact you should use the IRS link, because each tax preparer has its own requirements as to who can file their taxes for free. TurboTax requires that you make less than $34,000 per year, while others have a much higher income threshold.

Jason Ogaard is a software engineer who formerly lived in Hutchinson. He welcomes your technology questions, and he’ll answer them in this place. Please send your questions to technobabble@hutchinsonleader.com.