If you pay someone to do your taxes, choose wisely. Find a qualified and honest tax return preparer because you, not the preparer, are responsible for everything on your tax return.
Most preparers ask multiple questions to find your total income, filing situation, expenses, deductions and credits correctly. Your preparer will also want to see your records, income statements, identification cards and receipts. Your preparer does this to help you avoid paying penalties, interest or additional taxes when IRS later checks your tax return.
Most preparers are honest and provide excellent service. But, some prepare and file false income tax returns. For example, some preparers change the income or expenses to claim the largest amount of Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC. Sometimes you don't know the preparer put the false expenses, deductions, exemptions or credits on the return but you still have to pay it back.
To protect yourself, pay the correct amount of tax and get the credits you earn, follow these tips:
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.
- Never sign a blank tax form.
- Review your return before you sign and ask about anything you don't understand or doesn't seem right.
- Make sure your paid preparer signs the return and gives you a copy.
- Follow these tips for choosing a tax preparer:
- Know the total cost. Be cautious of tax preparers who claim they obtain larger refunds than others do. Avoid preparers who guarantee a refund or base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
- Plan ahead. Choose a preparer or firm who is around to answer questions about your tax return after April 15 or for a few years.
- Determine your needs. Does your state have licensing or registration requirements for paid preparers? Is your preparer an Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant or Attorney? If so, the preparer can represent you for audits, collections and appeals. Other return preparers can represent taxpayers in audits only if they signed the return as a preparer.
- Research. Check if the preparer has a 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 continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
Watch a YouTube Video about how to choose a professional tax preparer!
To help local working individuals and families attain financial stability, Southern New Hampshire Services-supported efforts are offering free income tax preparation in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties this tax season to those with low-to-moderate incomes.
Southern New Hampshire Services works with a number of local coalitions in the coordination of sites available in their areas, including the Asset Building Coalition in Nashua and the Cash Coalition of Southeastern New Hampshire.
To receive free tax filing assistance, it is recommended that the total income per return cannot exceed $50,000 for tax year 2011, and must not include more than $3,150 in investment income.
Click here to find a list of available sites in areas of New Hampshire covered by Southern New Hampshire Services and its related coalition.
Current listings of available free tax preparation sites are also available on-line. Use the following links to access this information from either the NH 2-1-1 database or the IRS database of free tax preparation sites.
These tax preparation services are provided by volunteers who are trained and certified on IRS-approved software. The volunteers will help filers prepare their 2011 federal income tax returns and determine whether they qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other tax credits, such as the Child Tax Credit or Credit for the Elderly.
Volunteers file the returns electronically, which facilitates direct deposit of refunds into taxpayers’ bank accounts, usually within 10 days. To file taxes electronically on a Married Filing Jointly tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.
Many sites have multilingual volunteers who can assist people with limited English skills.
To locate the nearest site by phone, taxpayers can call 2-1-1 in New Hampshire or the IRS at 800-906-9887 for VITA site locations and 1-888-227-7669 for AARP Tax Aide site information.
By SIMON RIOS, Union Leader Correspondent
NASHUA - Turn it off, turn it down, tune it up, and buy smart.
That was the message of a recent presentation on weatherization and energy efficiency by Southern New Hampshire Services workers Paul Chalifour, an energy auditor, and Dan Girard, a technical coordinator for the organization.
Though it’s among the sexier things a homeowner can do to “greenify” the home, replacement windows certainly are not among the most effective upgrades.
Instead homeowners have an array of options—from the most basic —turning off lights and keeping the temperature down when leaving the house— to the more involved —having an energy audit done on the home and carrying out the recommended upgrades.
This is what Southern New Hampshire Services provides to several hundred low-income households every year.
“Comfort and affordability, those are the two biggest issues,” Girard said. “That’s what we’re hearing all the time: ‘My home is so much more comfortable and my heating costs have dropped dramatically.”
Lifestyle changes can have the highest impact. Hanging clothing outside to dry, turning off unneeded lights and conserving heat, can bring 20 to 30 percent savings.
When it comes to heat, the experts recommend small steps: “You don’t want to turn it down 15 degrees of you’re only going to be gone six hours,” Girard said, but bringing the temp down five degrees for eight hours will cut five percent off the bill.
Installing programmable thermostats can make such a strategy effortless for homeowners.
Preventing leakage is another key part of conserving heat. Sealing around heating ducts, in addition to keeping registers clear and open at all times can greatly increase the efficiency of a heating system.
SNHS experts also recommend having oil heating systems services annually, and gas every other year to optimize performance.
They also say not to close rooms off, as the heating system is designed to provide heat equally to all rooms. A technician might able to redirect the system, however.
Girard and Chalifour stressed that since heat travels upward, a house loses most of its efficiency through the attic. Therefore sealing off plumbing and fan vents, as well as recessed lights can prevent this.
But nothing takes the place of sealing air penetration.
Many electrical items don’t have a cut off, and continue to expend energy even when turned off, Girard and Chalifour noted. Unplugging these things when not in use, or in the case of larger units, cutting the breaker switch, can result in noticeable decreases in energy use.
Water-efficient showerheads and taking shorter showers, in addition to washing dishes in cold water, which is possible with the detergents currently available. “I went to warm (water) for a little before I went to cold, but there’s no difference,” Girard testified.
SNHS’s ability to help homeowners with weatherization has been buoyed by federal funds.
Ryan Clouthier, weatherization director at SNHS, said federal stimulus money has “been outstanding. We were definitely able to create jobs with it and weatherized three times more homes than we could have.”
This is “one of the very few government programs that actually shows a payback,” Girard concluded. “We’re not only spending money, but we’re benefiting from it.”
Low income households are able to apply for the weatherization services, though there’s currently a long wait list.
SNHS is a non-profit organization that receives most of its funding from the state, in addition to monies from the utility companies. It also provides fuel assistance and runs Head Start programs and a variety of nutrition programs. More information is available at www.snhs.org.
Reprinted with permission
Union Leader Corporation
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
CONCORD – Increased federal funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), will allow the state to help families and seniors currently on the waiting list pay their home heating bills this winter.
Initial federal funding cuts forced the state to limit immediate eligibility to families and seniors making less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level. The increased funding will allow the program to cover people up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level – although there is still the potential for a waiting list later in the season.
We are pleased that the importance of this program was recognized and additional funding was authorized. These continue to be challenging times for many families due to the unstable economy, coupled with high fuel oil prices, and the additional funding was very much needed,” said Joanne Morin, director of the state Office of Energy and Planning. “This increased federal funding will allow us to help thousands more New Hampshire families and seniors stay warm this winter.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initially allotted $14.7 million in LIHEAP funding for New Hampshire. Recent congressional action increased the funding to approximately $26 million, which is still about $9 million less than $34 million New Hampshire received last year.
“We must remember that even though funding was increased over our initial allotment, New Hampshire is still receiving less LIHEAP aid than last year at a time when demand is increasing,” said Joanne Morin, director of the state Office of Energy and Planning.
The Office of Energy and Planning will monitor the program to ensure monies are available for emergencies as required by law, and may be forced to again start a waiting list later in the season to ensure that adequate resources remain to address emergencies.
If you have any questions about your benefits or wish to see if you are eligible for heating assistance, please call your local community action agency.
SNHS received great news recently when word came from Washington, DC that applications to build the final 16 apartments at Hallsville Court in Manchester (Phase 3 of three phases) and 20 much-needed apartments on Route 2 in Lancaster had been approved.
The New Hampshire Union Leader and Coos County Democrat reported on the successful applications and SNHS representatives are scheduled to go before the Lancaster Planning Board on December 14. Due to competition for metro units throughout New England, SNHS’ request for funding to build in Londonderry was not approved at this time.
According to the Union Leader article, the “grants are targeted to help non-profit organizations produce accessible housing, offer rental assistance and facilitate supportive services for the elderly.”
SNHS is doing its part to stimulate the in-state construction industry with groundbreaking scheduled in the coming days for 16 units of senior housing on Fairgrounds Road in Plymouth and 16 units on Alpine Village Drive in North Woodstock. Local officials in both Grafton County communities have been supportive of SNHS’ housing mission and have reported unofficially that there’s already great interest among town residents.
Completion and occupancy for both of these residences is expected in Summer/Fall 2012.
CONCORD – Community Action Agencies will begin releasing Fuel Assistance Program benefits to New Hampshire families this week, targeting the limited dollars to those families in the lowest income brackets with the most difficulty in paying their fuel bills.
“With a 50 percent cut in federal funding, there are no easy choices,” said Joanne Morin, director of the state Office of Energy and Planning. “We looked at a number of options for stretching these dollars, and allocating them fairly.
“In order to protect the health and safety of New Hampshire citizens, we will target funding to families most vulnerable to being left out in the cold,” Morin said. “We will also continue to push President Obama and Congress to adequately fund heating assistance for struggling families.”
The federal government has cut funding for the Low Income Home Heating Program (LIHEAP) also known as the Fuel Assistance Program, nearly in half. Last year, New Hampshire received $34 million. This year, New Hampshire has only received $14.7 million.
In light of that significant reduction, the Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) is instructing the Community Action Agencies to release benefits first to those households below 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Those households between 125 percent and 200 percent Federal Poverty Guidelines will be placed on a waiting list pending further federal funding. All households up to the 200 percent Federal Poverty Guidelines will be eligible for emergency benefits if they are in a situation where they have no heat.
This program modification will require changes to the software that issues letters to fuel vendors. While these changes will be made as quickly as possible, it is likely that fuel vendors will not receive official notifications until next week. Going forward, the Office of Energy and Planning will monitor the program to ensure monies are available for emergencies as required by law, and may be forced to start a waiting list at a future date in order to ensure that adequate resources remain to address emergencies.
If you have any questions about your benefits, please call your local Community Action Agency.
For several decades now, New Hampshire’s community action agencies and other fine nonprofit sponsors have developed more than 1,000 units of new and affordable rental housing for low-income people 62 years and older all across our state.
The funding source for these apartments has been the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 202 program.
Southern New Hampshire Services, in particular, has developed and now manages almost two dozen such residences – totaling almost 800 apartments by this time next year – bringing clean and safe housing not only to the cities of Nashua, Rochester and Manchester, but also to the small towns of Pittsburg, Campton and Greenfield, among others.
Most 202 units are occupied by women – oftentimes widowed – who were simply unable to maintain the expense of keeping up a single-family home any longer.
Today, the 202 program is under attack in Washington, D.C. Last year, President Barack Obama zeroed out the program in his proposed fiscal year 2012 budget, and more recently the Senate moved to eliminate the new development portion of the program altogether.
In other words, if the president and Senate have their way, there will be zero 202 units built in the future – and America’s seniors will be the losers.
As recently as fiscal year 2010, the 202 program included $371 million for new development of more than 2,700 new units of supportive housing for seniors throughout the country.
There are still 10 seniors on the waiting list for every 202 unit that comes online, according to the AARP. Almost without exception, as soon as SNHS opens a new and fully occupied residence here, other seniors are asking if they can be alerted to any units that might open up.
A 2008 HUD study recommends funding 10,000 units of Section 202 housing each year for the next 10 to 15 years to meet the demand. It is clear a comprehensive national policy for affordable housing and services is needed or the current senior housing crisis will intensify.
Today, we’re asking Congress to restore meaningful funding levels for the Section 202 program to include new development.
New Hampshire’s senior citizens of today and in the future deserve no less.
Gale F. Hennessy is executive director of Southern New Hampshire Services, Hillsborough County’s Community Action Agency, and president of the New Hampshire Community Action Association.
A reprint of an original guest commentary that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on November 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission. http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/
Southern New Hampshire Services’ New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP), connects immigrants and refugees with the land, skills, and resources needed to start farm-based enterprises in New Hampshire. The farmers are recently resettled Somali Bantu and Bhutanese refugees living in Manchester, NH. Produce is grown on a seven acre farm in Dunbarton, NH, lent for use by retired dairy farmers. This year 13 participants are selling vegetables as part of the Fresh Start Farms collective at various farmers markets, through Community Supported Agriculture Shares, SNHS’ Summer Food Service Program, New Hampshire’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and wholesale to a local colleges and restaurants.
In order to successfully integrate refugee farmers into the agricultural community here in New Hampshire, participants are being connected to the larger network of farm services. Relationships are established with the UNH Cooperative Extension, The USDA Service Center, including the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, Southern New Hampshire Resource Conservation and Development, The New England Farm Workers’ Council, and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.
For more information on Fresh Start Farms and the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project, contact the Organization for Refugees and Immigrant Success 296-0443.