Getting accurate tax advice not so easy

GLENDALE Eyewitness News teamed up with Consumer Reports Money Adviser to test out tax Web sites, software, even the IRS. Your best bet? None of them.

"It was just all confusion to me."

"You know, it's not for the average American. It's not simple."

"I think it's kind of confusing. That's why I don't do it."

These are a few comments from everyday Americans regarding filing their federal tax returns.

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 TurboTax, even the Internal Revenue Service itself, all offering free assistance.

So Consumer Reports Money Adviser tax expert Tobie Stanger wanted to see if free tax help is a good deal.

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

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

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

Using TurboTax 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 layperson, whose answer has no icon.

"The TurboTax answers were correct as far as they went," said Stanger. "But they were often incomplete. And in several cases, we didn't get answers at all."

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

Starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, 2008, on Eyewitness News, you can get advice for free from a trusted professional. It's the annual Tax Tip Hotline. You can call in and get free tax advice on anything from mortgage deductions to your tax rebate checks.


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