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Published:   |   Last Updated: October 24, 2023

Choosing a Tax Return Preparer

If you decide to have a tax return preparer prepare and file your income tax return, it is important to choose the preparer carefully. Finding a qualified professional takes a little planning and some research – but remember, you are responsible for everything on your tax return, even when someone else prepares it.

What do I need to know?

No matter where you find a tax return preparer, do your homework before you trust anyone with your important personal tax information.

There are many ways to find a tax return preparer. The IRS has a directory of preparers with certain kinds of credentials, such as enrolled agents. IRS.gov also offers a list of national non-profit tax professional groups, which can help provide additional information for finding the right type of qualified help. You may have a reference from someone you know or have a tax return preparation business in your neighborhood.

Certain taxpayers qualify for free professional help in preparing and filing returns, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE).



What Should I do?

Before you decide to give a tax return preparer your information, do your homework.

Check the preparer’s qualifications

  • Make sure the preparer has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). A PTIN is required for anyone who is paid for preparing or helping to prepare all or substantially all a federal tax return, claim for refund, or certain other IRS tax forms. Find out if the preparer is affiliated with any professional associations.
  • Ask the preparer about his or her education and training; specifically, about their background that qualifies them to prepare your return.

Check the preparer’s history

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has had complaints filed against them.
  • Check with professional associations to see if the preparer has had any disciplinary actions, and for the status of the preparer’s license:

Ask about fees

  • Avoid tax return preparers who charge you based on the amount of your refund.
  • Obtain a clear estimate, preferably in writing, for the preparation and filing services.

Find out services the preparer offers

  • Does the preparer offer electronic filing?
  • Is the preparer available after April 15 to answer questions about your return months or years after it is filed?

Ask around

  • Do you know anyone who has used this preparer?
  • Were they satisfied with the service? If not, why?

Note: Be careful when a preparer says they can get you a larger refund than other preparers. Remember, even if your preparer completes your tax return, you are still responsible for its accuracy.

Protect yourself

Always get a complete copy of your tax return and keep it for your records. Verify the preparer signed it and included a PTIN. In addition, avoid any preparer who asks you to sign a blank tax return or requires the refund to be direct deposited to a bank account under the preparer’s control.


How will this affect me?

You are legally responsible for everything listed on your tax return even if you followed the advice of a tax return preparer. Most preparers are trustworthy and provide good service, but if you choose one who is not honest or is not properly trained, you could pay the consequences. This can include:

  • Owing additional taxes, penalties, and interest for claiming incorrect credits or deductions;
  • Receiving a smaller refund than you are due because of the preparer’s lack of knowledge about credits or deductions;
  • Receiving your refund later because of mistakes on your tax return; or
  • Auditing your tax return to determine whether it is correct;

In the worst case, choosing an untrustworthy tax preparer could make you a victim of fraud or misconduct. Read more about return preparer fraud or misconduct, how to recognize it, and how to protect yourself.

Attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents have unlimited representation rights and can represent any client before the IRS on any tax matter. Other tax return preparers may be limited in what they can do for you. For more information about limitations on preparers, see IRS Publication 5227, Annual Filing Season Program.


Wait, I still need help.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers and protects taxpayers’ rights. We can offer you help if your tax problem is causing a financial difficulty, you’ve tried and been unable to resolve your issue with the IRS, or you believe an IRS system, process, or procedure just isn’t working as it should. If you qualify for our assistance, which is always free, we will do everything possible to help you.

Visit www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov or call 1-877-777-4778.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) are independent from the IRS and TAS. LITCs represent individuals whose income is below a certain level and who need to resolve tax problems with the IRS. LITCs can represent taxpayers in audits, appeals, and tax collection disputes before the IRS and in court. In addition, LITCs can provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language. Services are offered for free or a small fee. For more information or to find an LITC near you, see the LITC page on the TAS website or Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List.


Did you know there is a Taxpayer Bill of Rights?

The taxpayer Bill of Rights is grouped into 10 easy to understand categories outlining the taxpayer rights and protections embedded in the tax code.

It is also what guides the advocacy work we do for taxpayers.

Read more about your rights