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BBB: Read the fine print when using paid tax preparation services

Hiring someone to prepare your taxes this season could be costly if you fail to read the fine print.

The Dayton Better Business Bureau has logged more than 150 complaints in the past 36 months against tax preparation services in the Miami Valley, and that number is expected to rise as the April 15 deadline for filing your 2013 taxes approaches, officials said. Most of the complaints are about fees tax services charge to prepare personal tax returns, said John North, Dayton BBB president.

He urged that consumers read the fine print to ensure that they aren’t being overcharged, as in the case with German Twp. resident Amanda Campbell.

She typically prepares her our tax returns. But after her son was born and she attempted to claim him as a dependent, Campbell wasn’t sure if she filled out the IRS forms properly.

So she went to Acceptance Insurance on Bechtle Avenue and female employee confirmed that she’d be charged $50.

The printout Campbell was given after the employee prepared her taxes showed her tax refund would be $3,714, nearly $330 less than what was reported on the IRS website when Campbell attempted to do her taxes. She pointed out the discrepancy to the Acceptance Insurance representative, but she chalked it up to Campbell’s inexperience.

Campbell checked the IRS website again and she got confirmation that her refund should have been $4,042— $328 less than what Acceptance Insurance told her.

When she questioned the company the next day, Campbell received a printout showing the $50 she thought she was paying for tax preparation only covered the audit defense fee. She was also charged $108.95 for the return to be submitted to her bank, and another $190 for her taxes to be prepared. She said when she asked why she wasn’t told about the fees before, the company told her she must not have read the paperwork thoroughly.

“I was furious when I found out because she made it seem to me I was getting back $3,714, not that I was getting (that back) after they deducted all their taxes,” Campbell said. “I wanted my money that was rightfully mine. It wasn’t theirs to take.”

Acceptance Insurance has offices in Dayton and Springfield, and this is the first complaint the BBB has logged with the company regarding tax preparation. An employee at their Springfield office declined to give out information about their tax preparation service or costs and referred all questions to their legal department, headquartered in Tennessee.

Mark Reineke, vice president of Acceptance Insurance’s legal services, said the company does “everything to make sure the customer is aware” of fees. He said Acceptance Insurance will refund Campbell the difference above the $50 fee she was quoted.

“We fully disclose all of the fees and charges up front and the customer is presented with those at the end of the transaction,” he said. “We partner with a tax preparation service and the customer is charged for the tax preparation service.”

The issue Campbell encountered is common, said North of the Dayton BBB. It’s imperative for consumers to read all paperwork carefully, including the fine print, to have a clear picture of fees, he said. Fees can include the actual cost of preparation, audit insurance, and the cost to submit the return. Fees should be dependent on how complex the return is, not the amount being refunded, according to the BBB.

“Review all documents carefully, review your return very carefully, ask clarifying questions before you sign,” he said.

Referrals are usually a good way to find a trust-worthy company, and consumers can cross-reference that information with the BBB’s customer database. Any issues can be reported to the BBB, which can act as a third-party in solving disputes, North said.

Campbell said she hope others will be careful about where they go to get their taxes prepared.

“Just be real cautious of who you go to. Don’t trust just anybody,” she said.

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