I think e-filing has made taxpayers a little lazy. Back in the old days, they would gather not only their source info like W-2s and 1099s but they would have a copy of the instructions for whichever 1040 form they were using. They would spend an evening or a whole weekend filing in the form. They knew what was on the form. Now, with more taxpayers using a paid preparer or tax software fewer know what’s on their return.
I see clients all the time that don’t know what was on their return. They get surprised when I tell them that they can’t take certain credits or deductions because they think they’ve taken them before. As I try to review the return with them, they stop me and just want to know what the refund is. It’s clear that they don’t look at the return I give them. That is a mistake. To file the return, the taxpayer has to sign either the return or the electronic filing form. This states that they know and take responsibility for what is on that return.
Whether they do it themselves on paper or with tax software or use a tax pro, the taxpayer has to understand that they are responsible for everything on the return. It’s their return and they will answer to the IRS (or state tax authority) if there is a problem. They will be the one responsible for paying the extra tax, penalties and interest.
So, take the time to review your return before you sign anything. Check dependents, income and deductions. Is there something wrong or missing? Find out why. Don’t assume that the software or tax pro is right. Ask questions.
And while you’re being careful with you return, take a minute to check any other paperwork you are being asked to sign. Are you signing up for a program you don’t want? Do you understand the costs of what you’re buying? And don’t sign a blank return or form not completely filled in. That’s just asking for trouble. There are preparers who will scam you.
If there turns out to be a problem on your tax return, the IRS will not ignore it because you used a tax pro or software. So, protect yourself and check your return. There probably isn’t a problem but just in case you’ve done your best to protect yourself.