5 Tips for Choosing a Tax Return Preparer

March 25, 2016

Your annual physical. Spring cleaning. Flu shots. What do these activities have in common? Just like preparing and filing your taxes, you need to complete them every year. Yet filing your annual tax return can seem confusing or even scary. To make the process easier, many people prefer to work with an expert.

But even if someone else does the math, prepares, and files your tax return with the IRS, you are responsible for everything reported on your return. To avoid careless mistakes or even tax return preparer fraud or misconduct, it’s important to know what to look for – and avoid – when choosing a tax return preparer.

Here are five tips to help you find a qualified tax professional:

Do your research. Before the filing deadline, research potential tax return preparers to determine if they match your personal requirements, are responsive to your questions, and you’ll be able to contact them after your tax return is filed.

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.

For any preparer, it's important to ask for references — talk to others who had successful experiences with the preparer. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has had complaints filed.

You can also check with associations to see if the preparer has received any disciplinary actions, and for the status of the preparer’s license:

Get technical. Be sure the preparer’s qualifications meet your needs. Every professional tax return preparer must have a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number). You can decide if you need an enrolled agent, a Certified Public Accountant, or an attorney who can represent taxpayers before the IRS in situations like audits, collection actions, and appeals.

Watch out for scams. Avoid any preparer who claims they can obtain a larger refund than other preparers, guarantees a refund, or bases their fees on a percentage of your refund. Also keep away from preparers who don’t offer follow-up support after tax season. Credible tax professionals are available year-round.

Stand your ground. If a preparer tries to persuade you to say something on your tax return that’s not true in order to secure a bigger refund, find another preparer. Also avoid any preparer who pressures you into buying additional services, asks you to sign a blank tax return, or requires that your tax refund be sent to a bank account under their control.  

Be diligent. Make sure your preparer gives you a copy of your completed tax return that was filed, and that it has the preparer’s signature and Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). This will help protect your tax refund and guard against fraud or misconduct. Keep that signed copy in a safe place.

For more tips, visit Choosing a Tax Return Preparer.