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Are you looking for a trustworthy tax preparer? With the tax season underway, Better Business Bureau is encouraging taxpayers to take their time finding and selecting a tax preparer they can trust to avoid mistakes that could result in additional fees or even tax identity theft.
9 Tips for Hiring a Trustworthy Tax Preparer
BBB received more than 1,394 complaints against tax return preparation businesses across the United States and Canada in 2017. According to BBB Scam Tracker, common complaints state that the tax preparer made errors in their return which resulted in fines and fees. Other complaints allege customer service, billing, and contract issues.
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“Filing taxes is a major financial transaction for not only consumers, but businesses as well,” said Paula Fleming, Chief Marketing & Sales Officer for the local BBB. “Taxpayers should be aware of the best practices they can take to make the process as stress-free as possible.”
BBB offers the following tips to help consumers search for reliable tax preparers and avoid certain issues that can arise from choosing an unreliable tax preparer:
Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check BBB reports on local tax preparers and tax preparation services. Make sure to search for a tax preparer who is an expert in the type of service that is needed.
Don’t Fall for the Promise of Big Refunds.
Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and steer clear of tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund. Request an estimate and discuss the price before making an agreement. The cost of the service should be determined by the complexity of the return.
Look for Credentials.
Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider. Be sure to find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides or requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
Make Sure They Have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
A PTIN must be obtained by all tax return preparers who are compensated for preparing or assisting in the preparation of, all or substantially all of any U.S. federal tax return, claim for refund, or other tax form submitted to the IRS.
Examine whether the preparer has any questionable history with your state’s Board of Accountancy (for certified public accountants), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.
A paid preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. They should also include their appropriate identifying number on the return. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your return.
Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year; be sure to find out how you would do so.
Read the Contract Carefully.
Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if the preparation is more complicated and time-consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.
Don’t forget about Free File.
If your income is $57,000 or less, Free File offers free Federal tax preparation and e-filing. It’s available only through IRS.gov, where a number of tax software companies make their products available for free. Some also support state tax returns for free.