The Internal Revenue Service set up a hot line Thursday for victims of Hurricane Katrina and urged people to investigate charities before making cash donations.
Donors can deduct cash donations from their income taxes if the charities qualify for tax exempt status. The IRS keeps a list of qualified charities.
Taxpayers hit by the hurricane can get information about available tax relief, free copies of tax return information and receive disaster tax loss information kits by calling 1-866-562-5227.
The line will be open Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. local time. Some callers may be referred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for additional help.
The IRS also has urged those who lost homes and businesses not to worry about tax deadlines and to know that the IRS can help them reconstruct their tax records.
The IRS already has extended tax deadlines to Oct. 31 for people and businesses in the disaster zone, an act that also waives interest and late payment penalties. The deadlines can be extended again, if necessary.
Although taxes may not be the first concern of people assessing damage to their homes and businesses, documentation made for insurance purposes can help at tax time, said Kathy Burlison, director of tax implementation at H&R Block.
"It's something they can be doing simultaneously as they're thinking about what the effect is for them, what they've lost and what they're expenses have been," she said.
Tax laws help people recover some losses not reimbursed by insurance. People should document the damage with photographs and those who can't go home should make a list of their belongings, financial experts said.
Assistance in the form of food, shelter and grants is generally not taxable.
People who need help fast can claim unreimbursed and uninsured losses by amending last year's income tax return, effectively claiming that the loss took place last year. Copies of past years' tax returns are available from the IRS free of charge for that purpose.
The IRS says people in the disaster areas should write "Hurricane Katrina" in red ink atop any documents sent to the tax agency.