Electronic filing of individual tax returns began Jan. 23. That is the date IRS began processing 1040 forms. Other returns, such as partnerships, corporations and trust returns, are already being accepted.

Just because an individual return was filed on Jan. 23, however, does not mean that all refunds will be promptly paid. Under a new law, returns seeking earned income tax credit or additional child tax credits will be held until Feb. 15 before being processed.

There is plenty of free tax help available in the Bluffton area. Well-trained volunteers in the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) will be available to help prepare and electronically file returns.

In addition, free software is available. For taxpayers earning $63,000 or less, there is IRS Free File. Visit www.IRS.gov and click on the Filing tab for options on using commercial tax software.

For those who prefer a paid preparer, make sure that the preparer has an IRS issued PTIN, which is a registration number for paid preparers registered with the IRS and eligible to participate in electronic filing of returns.

It is also a good idea to question your preparer about his or her professional qualifications, credentials and what classwork or continuing education the preparer has taken regarding the current tax laws.

Minimum education requirements for IRS credentialed preparers ranges from a minimum of 16 hours of classroom or online study upward, depending on the type of credential.

Required study includes tax updates, general tax laws and ethics.

If there are tax issues involved that might require direct contact with the IRS, choose a CPA licensed in your state or an EA (enrolled agent) who holds a federal license to do your return. They are allowed to represent taxpayers before the IRS.

For Beaufort County taxpayers who have not filed their 2015 returns for whatever reason, but filed an extension, the extension deadline was moved to March 15, 2017, due to the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

If you suffered damage from the hurricane and were unable to get financial relief from your insurer or did not have homeowners insurance, look at IRS publication No. 547 and Form 4684.

As with any casualty or loss, there are Federal remedies up to a point.

You can deduct the allowable loss in 2016 or amend your 2015 return to include the allowable loss.

However, the strings attached are that the allowable loss must exceed 10 percent of your AGI (adjusted gross income) plus $100 and any insurance reimbursement.

Consult your tax professional for help if needed.

Virginia Moryadas is a tax preparation professional in Bluffton.