Bad Tax Help

Consumer Reports says there are plenty of places confused tax filers can turn to for help. Everyone from AARP, tax-related web sites, programs like Turbo Tax, even the IRS itself, is offering free assistance.

Tax expert Tobie Stanger wanted to see if "free" tax help is a good deal.

Stanger, Consumer Reports, says "We had an independent accounting firm help us craft some questions that people might ask, about charitable deductions, whether they could claim someone as a dependent."

Consumer Reports posed the questions at Turbo Tax's new online forum. And she called the IRS at its decades-old 800 number.

"The IRS was very prompt. They were very polite. They answered all the questions. In one case they suggested we talk to a professional to get a little bit more help, and in another they left out some details that probably could have saved a taxpayer money," says Stanger.

Using Turbo Tax live community was a slightly different experience.

For one, you might hear from a tax expert, identified by a red icon, but you may also hear from someone who simply has tax knowledge, identified by a green icon. And then there's the lay person, whose answer has no icon.

"Well, the Turbo Tax answers were correct, as far as they went, but they were often incomplete. And in several cases we didn't get answers at all," Stanger says.

So Consumer Reports says if you want a tax answer you can depend on, plan on paying a trusted professional.

Consumer Reports says you can get help finding a licensed professional by going to the National Association of Tax Professionals website.

Click on "find a tax professional" and you'll get a list of federally licensed tax specialists and CPA's in our area.

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