Before this year’s tax-filing deadline in April, you may consider hiring someone to fill out your taxes.
Lots of people don’t want to bother with the complicated IRS tax forms or worry about whether they’re interpreting tax laws correctly.
But before you shell out money to a paid tax preparation service, you should make sure you’re retaining a true professional – not someone who barely knows more than you do; and certainly not someone who might rip you off or mess up your taxes in some way.
After all, even if you pay another individual or a company to prepare your taxes, you are the one legally responsible for the information on that 1040 form.
With this in mind, here are 10 tips – directly from the IRS – that you should keep in mind when selecting someone to prepare your tax returns.
1. Check the tax preparer’s qualifications.
New regulations require all paid tax return preparers to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization and attends continuing education classes. The IRS is also phasing in a new test requirement to make sure those who are not an enrolled agent, CPA, or attorney have met minimal competency requirements. Those subject to the test will become a Registered Tax Return Preparer once they pass it.
2. Check on the tax preparer’s history.
Check to see if the preparer has a questionable history with the Better Business Bureau (http://www.BBB.org) and check for any disciplinary actions and licensure status through the state boards of accountancy for certified public accountants; the state bar associations for attorneys; and the IRS Office of Enrollment for enrolled agents.
3. Ask about their service fees.
Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers. Also, always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into an account in your name. Under no circumstances should all or part of your refund be directly deposited into a preparer’s bank account.
4. Ask if they offer electronic filing.
Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients must file the returns electronically, unless the client opts to file a paper return. More than 1 billion individual tax returns have been safely and securely processed since the debut of electronic filing in 1990. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file.
5. Make sure the tax preparer is accessible.
Make sure you will be able to contact the tax preparer after the return has been filed, even after the April due date, in case questions arise.
6. Provide all records and receipts needed to prepare your return.
Reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to electronically file your return before you receive your Form W-2 using your last pay stub. This is against IRS e-file rules.
7. Never sign a blank return.
Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.
8. Review the entire return before signing it.
Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions. Make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
9. Make sure the tax preparer signs the form and includes their PTIN.
A paid preparer must sign the return and include their PTIN as required by law. Although the preparer signs the return, you are responsible for the accuracy of every item on your return. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
10. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS.
You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. Download Form 14157 from www.irs.gov or order by mail at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).