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 that person carefully. Finding a qualified professional takes a little planning and some research – but remember, you are responsible for everything on your return, even when someone else prepares it.

There are many ways to find a tax 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 seeking the right type of qualified help. You may have a reference from someone you know. Or a buisness in your neighborhood.

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

Certain taxpayers can 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).

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

Check the preparer’s qualifications

  • Make sure the preparer has a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number) – this is required for all professional preparers
  • Find out if the preparer is affiliated with any professional associations
  • Ask the preparer about his or her education and training – what background does that person have that qualifies him or her to prepare your return?

Check the preparer’s history

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has had complaints filed about him or her
  • 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 charges and fees

  • Avoid preparers who base their fee on the amount of your refund
  • Try to obtain a clear estimate, preferably in writing, for the preparation and filing services

Find out what services the preparer offers

  • Does the preparer offer electronic filing?
  • Will the preparer be available after April 15 if you have questions or problems? Consider whether the preparer will be around to answer questions about your return months or years after its filed.

Ask around

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

Note: Be careful when a preparer claims he or she can get you a larger refund than other preparers. Remember, even if your preparer handles everything involved in completing your tax return, you are still responsible for its accuracy.

Protect Yourself

Always get a complete copy of your tax return. Verify that the preparer signed it and included a PTIN.

  • Avoid any preparer who asks you to sign a blank return or requires the refund to be direct-deposited to a bank account under the preparer’s control.

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 back taxes due to incorrect credits or deductions being taken
  • Receiving a smaller refund than you are due because of the preparer’s lack of knowledge about credits or deductions
  • A delay in receiving your refund due to mistakes
  • An audit to determine whether your return is correct
  • Owing more taxes, penalties, or interest, or getting a smaller refund than you should due to your preparer’s lack of knowledge

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

Have a different tax issue?  Browse common issues and situations at Get Help.

Is your tax problem more complex?  If your issue is causing you financial hardship, you have tried repeatedly and are not receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights are being violated, consider contacting TAS.

Do you feel that you need help from a tax professional but can’t afford one? You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified July 5, 2016
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