How to Choose a Tax Preparer
If you decide to hire a paid tax preparer, you need to find a qualified professional. Even though someone else is preparing your return, you remain responsible for the content, and for any penalty, interest or additional payment that results from an error. That’s why it’s a must that you are careful in picking the person to take care of your tax documents.
In some states, tax preparers do not need to carry a license, but it pays to hire someone who does and is certified. Ask the following questions before choosing a particular tax preparer:
> What formal tax training have you acquired?
> Do you hold any professional designations or licenses, like certified public accountant (CPA), registered accounting practitioner (RAP), enrolled agent (EA), accredited tax preparer (ATP) or accredited tax advisor (ATA)?
> Do you engage in continuing professional education classes year after year?
> How long have you been in this line of work?
> Have you worked with someone who had a similar tax situation as mine?
> How much should I pay you and how do you set your fee?
> Will you be able to help me any time of year if I run into problems?
> Are you authorized e-file returns, and are you going to represent me in an audit or collection matter when a situation arises?
> How do you stand by your work?
> Can you give me some client references? Check with the Better Business Bureau to know if complaints have been filed against the preparer.)
> Whose account does the refund go to – yours or mine? (The money must be sent to your account.)
Stay away from those who promise to give you bigger refunds than other preparers, “guarantee” results, or take their fees as a percentage of your refund. Pick someone you can reach even after your return has been filed, and one who is known for being responsive to their clients’ needs. Note that processing is faster for e-filed returns than those that are mailed. Rather than depending on the preparer, check with the Treasury to know processing time frames.
As mentioned – and it is always worth repeating – taxpayers are responsible for what is in their returns, even if you have a preparer working for you. Don’t sign the document unless you have reviewed it thoroughly. Check if all personal information found therein is correct, from your Social Security number to your number of exemptions to your address and all the rest.
Don’t ever sign a blank form, nor in pencil. Tax preparers should sign the return, fill in the relevant areas on the form(s) and give you a copy. Always demand to get a copy, and then keep it your file for future reference.