Choosing a tax-return preparer

Published 2:19 pm Friday, February 18, 2011

Taxpayers who pay someone to do their taxes should choose a preparer wisely. If you choose to use a paid tax preparer, it is important that you find a qualified tax professional.

“Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for everything on their return, even when it’s prepared by someone else,” said IRS spokesman Mark S. Green.

Beginning this year, tax professionals preparing returns for a fee must have a preparer tax identification number. It is strongly recommended that a creditable, knowledgeable, accountable preparer with a PTIN is chosen.

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The PTIN is the first step in bringing oversight to the largely unregulated tax-preparer market.

Choose the following tips to choose a preparer who will offer the best service.

• Reputable preparers ask questions to determine if expenses, deductions and other items qualify and they remind clients they need to keep careful and complete records in order to substantiate information on their tax returns. By doing so, they have your best interest in mind and are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest or additional taxes that could result from later IRS contacts.

• Find out what the service fees are before the return is prepared. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of your refund, or who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.

• Only use a tax professional that signs your tax return and provides a copy for your records.

• Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form. Never sign a blank tax return!

• Choose a tax preparer who will be around to answer questions after the return has been filed.

• As questions. Ask others who have used the service. Were they satisfied?

• Check to see if the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for CPAs or the state’s bar association for attorneys.

• Determine if the preparer’s credentials meet your needs. Does your state have licensing or registration requirements for paid preparers? Is he an enrolled agent, certified public accountant or attorney? If so, the preparer can represent taxpayers before the IRS on all matters, including audits, collections and appeals. Other return preparers can represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return signed as a preparer.

• Before signing, review the return and ask questions.