1 in 3 Lower Earners Is Making This Major Tax Mistake

By Maurie Backman Markets Fool.com

Though income taxes can be a huge burden for most working Americans, they can be particularly brutal for lower earners who are already struggling to make ends meet. That's why it's troubling to learn that 38% of taxpayers earning less than $50,000 a year are paying to have their tax returns filed when they could instead be submitting them for free.

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According to a recent NerdWallet study, 26% of workers earning under $50,000 annually pay a tax professional, like a private accountant, to do their taxes, while 12% use a national tax-preparation company like H&R Block. Not only can paying a professional be expensive, but to add insult to injury, all Americans earning less than $64,000 can file their taxes at no cost thanks to the IRS Free File tool. It just goes to show how getting educated about taxes can result in major savings for those who need money the most.

Read on to learn the advantages of using this program.

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How much money will you waste?

NerdWallet reports that the average tax filer pays $273 for a private accountant, which is a heck of a lot more money than $0. Meanwhile, the average cost for an H&R Block tax return is $154, while the average cost for a return prepared at Liberty Tax Service is $228. Even if you take the lower of the two figures, $154 is still a lot of money to throw away for someone already living paycheck-to-paycheck. In fact, of those earning $50,000 or less, only 12% take advantage of the option to file for free.

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All in, the IRS estimates that more than 70% of Americans qualify for no-cost filing, yet many taxpayers pass up this option for fear of making a mistake. The funny thing, however, is that filing taxes electronically can actually reduce your chances of slipping up. The IRS reports that the error rate for paper returns is a whopping 21%, while it's less than 1% for returns filed electronically. Not only can filing electronically help eliminate blunders, but it can actually save you money in other ways as well.

The benefits of filing electronically

Many workers miss out on key tax credits and deductions because they don't know to look for them. It's this fear, in fact, that motivates some taxpayers to hire professionals. But what many may not realize is that today's tax software programs (including the free ones) are designed to help you identify credits and deductions that could save you loads of much-needed money.

Furthermore, people who file their returns electronically typically get their refunds sooner than those who file on paper. The IRS says it usually takes six to eight weeks to issue refunds for paper returns, whereas those who file electronically get their money back in three weeks or less. If you're living paycheck-to-paycheck, collecting that refund a month earlier could spell the difference between taking on debt or paying your bills on time.

Get educated

While many low earners pay for tax assistance to avoid mistakes, others do so because they simply aren't aware that no-cost options exist. And this actually speaks to a greater problem about Americans' lack of tax knowledge on a whole. NerdWallet reports that almost 50% of taxpayers either don't know which federal income tax bracket they fall into or don't understand what a tax bracket is to begin with. Meanwhile, 58% of taxpayers think they can delay paying the IRS what they owe by filing for a tax extension, when in reality, all an extension does is give you more time to submit a return itself.

The more educated you are about taxes across the board, the more you'll be able to capitalize on a number of tax breaks. For example, if you're a low earner, you might be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which could put up to $6,318 back in your pocket. Homeowners, meanwhile, can take a number of larger deductions that can really add up. If you have kids, the Child Tax Credit could be worth up to $1,000 per child. And if you pay for child care so that you and your spouse can work, the Child and Dependent Care Credit could translate into serious savings.

Best of all, you don't need to pay a tax professional to take advantage of these credits and deductions. You can claim them just as easily when you file your return online without paying a cent.

Though most things in life aren't free, if you're a lower earner, you can file your tax return this year without having to spend a dime. Before you call that accountant or pay for a service, go online and explore your options for filing electronically at no cost. You have nothing to lose -- and a chunk of money to save.

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