Key Terms

Choosing a Tax Preparer

If you decide to have a tax preparer file your income tax return, it is important to choose that person carefully. You may be eligible to use a volunteer tax return preparer through a program such as the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). However, if you decide to use a paid tax preparer, it is important that you find a qualified tax professional and remember that you are responsible for everything on your return even when it is prepared by someone else.

Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer

While most tax return preparers are professional and honest, taxpayers can use the following tips to choose a preparer who will offer the best service for their tax preparation needs.

  • Plan ahead – Choose a preparer you will be able to contact after the return is filed and one who will be responsive to your needs.
  • Get references – Ask questions and get references from clients who have used the tax professional before. Were they satisfied with the service received?
  • Research – Check to see if the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for Certified Public Accountants (CPA) or the state’s bar association for attorneys. You can contact these organizations by looking in your local telephone directory or on the Internet.
  • Determine if the preparer’s qualifications meet your needs – Is the preparer an Enrolled Agent (EA), Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Attorney? Only EAs, CPAs and attorneys can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection actions and appeals. Other return preparers may represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return they signed as a preparer.
  • Ask about tax preparation fees – Try to obtain a clear estimate, preferably in writing, for the preparation and filing services.
  • Understand Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) – RALs come with expensive fees and if you e-file your tax return with the IRS, you can get your full refund directly from the IRS in as few as 10 days – without having to pay any loan fees.
  • Obtain a signed copy of your return – It’s key to obtain a signed copy of your tax return from your preparer to protect your tax refund and guard against tax return fraud.

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Upon Choosing a Tax Preparer

  • Make sure the preparer signs the return and fills in his or her PTIN or Social Security number as indicated on the forms.  
  • Obtain from the preparer a hard copy of the signed and filed return; keep the copy in case of a problem with the return.  
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What to Avoid When Choosing a Tax Preparer

  • Over promising – Avoid preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers, or those who guarantee refunds or base their fees on a percentage of the refund.
  • No follow-up support – Avoid preparers who completely close their offices right after April 15 every year.
  • False statements – Avoid preparers who try to persuade you to say something on your tax return that is not true in order to get a bigger refund.
  • Blank returns – Avoid any tax preparer that asks you to sign a blank return or requires the refund be sent directly to them.
  • Additional services – Avoid preparers who pressure you to buy additional products or services.

Make sure your preparer fully explains every form you are asked to sign. In addition, ask your preparer about the use and disclosure of your personal tax return information.

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