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 tax 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 have a tax preparation business in your neighborhood.

No matter where you find a tax return 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 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 of 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 charges and 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 what 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 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 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.

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 return;
  • Auditing your tax return to determine whether it is correct; or
  • 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 Taxpayer Advocate Service (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, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified February 13, 2017