This time of year, folks are gathering all their information to file their taxes. If you are planning on hiring someone to prepare your taxes, here are some questions to ask the preparer:
- Do you have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) issued by the IRS? It is a requirement that paid tax preparers have an IRS PTIN. They must also sign your return and include their PTIN. If the preparer tells you they don’t need a PTIN, find a different preparer.
- Have you taken any continuing education classes? Tax laws are very complex and always changing. Your tax preparer needs those continuing education classes to stay up to date.
- What professional organizations do you belong to and what professional credentials do you have? Tax preparers aren’t required to belong to professional organizations or have special credentials, but having the credentials and belonging to the organizations shows the preparer is committed to providing a good service to his/her tax clients.
- What is your fee structure for preparing returns? Avoid preparers who brag about their ability to get you a large refund or whose fee is a percentage of your refund. Make sure your refund goes directly to you and not to your preparer.
- Are you available for any questions I have after tax season? Committed tax preparers strive to stay on top of issues that may affect their clients. They also request that their clients keep them informed of any correspondence they receive from the IRS or their state tax department. If you have any changes happen during the year that could affect your taxes, you need your preparer to be available for your questions.
- Will you E-file my return? Paid tax preparers who file more than 10 returns for clients are required to send them electronically to the IRS and the state taxing authorities.
Additional things to consider:
- Check into the preparer. Go to irs.gov and check to see if the preparer is listed. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau. Ask your friends and neighbors if they know anything about the preparer.
- Provide the preparer with your records and receipts. A good preparer will ask to see your records and receipts and may ask you additional questions. All this information is necessary to ensure the preparer is able to calculate your total income, deductions and credits. If the preparer offers to prepare your tax return based on your last pay stub, find another preparer.
- Never, ever sign a blank tax return. Run the other direction, quickly, if this is suggested.
- Review your return before signing. Legally, you are responsible for what is on your tax return. Make sure you understand it and if you don’t, ask the preparer to explain it to you. Try to find a preparer who takes the extra time to go through the tax return with you. While this is not required, it is certainly beneficial for you to understand your tax return.
- If you encounter an abusive tax preparer, report him/her to the IRS. Most tax preparers provide excellent service and are honest and ethical. Unfortunately, like any industry, there are a few that do not adhere to those high standards.
- Tell your preparer about any changes you have during the year. Examples are: a marriage, a divorce, a birth, a death, a job change, a significant increase or decrease in income, a move, buying or sell a home or real estate, buying or selling stock, or investing in a retirement plan.