What to Consider When Choosing a Tax Professional
When it’s time to choose a tax preparer, it’s important to find someone who can not only get you the largest refund you deserve, but can prepare your return accurately and securely. So here are a few important questions you should ask when choosing a tax professional.
1. Do you have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN)?
Paid tax return preparers are required to have a current PTIN. No ifs, ands or buts. The preparer must sign the return and include their PTIN before it is filed.
2. How did you learn to prepare taxes?
Ask about any courses or professional organizations they belong to. Tax law changes on an annual basis, so someone who does it as a hobby or sporadically may not be able to ensure you file an accurate return.
3. How do you protect my information?
You are handing over your most sensitive personal information to the preparer – your name, address, social security number, employer information and more. Are they making electronic copies of those documents? How are those stored? Are they encrypted? Are they destroyed after a certain amount of time? Where are hard copies left? Are they locked away and safe from easy access? If they use software to prepare the return, is it secure? These are important questions to ask.
4. What forms do I need to bring to my appointment?
If the preparer says you only need to bring your last paycheck stub, it’s a bad sign. A qualified preparer will use Form W-2 to complete your return. They should also ask you whether you would get a 1095 form, whether you have receipts or documentation for any deductions and more. They may want to see previous years’ returns. A good preparer will want you to bring in as many documents as possible – not as few.
5. Will my return be e-filed?
Any paid preparer who files more than 10 returns for clients, generally must file them electronically. This is not only a way to gauge the volume of returns they file and their ability to follow the rules – it’s an important way to gauge how long you’ll wait for your refund. E-filed returns are processed much faster than paper-filed returns.
6. How do you charge?
It’s wise to avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund. While it may seem like a nice incentive, it actually makes it more attractive for them to fraudulently claim credits that inflate your refund amount. That could lead to penalties for you in the future.
7. How will I get my refund?
Ensure that any refund is sent to you or your bank account.
8. When are you available outside of tax season?
If you can only reach your preparer for four months out of the year, it may be difficult if you need to amend the return or the IRS comes back with questions. If they are not available, ask whether they designate a third party to receive and inspect returns on their behalf.
In addition to asking these questions, remember that it is always your responsibility to review the tax return before signing and filing it. You want to make sure it is accurate, from the little things like your name and bank account information to big things like the number of dependents you have and the deductions you claim. Even though the preparer signs the return, you are the one who is legally responsible for the information within the return.
Doing a little bit of research when choosing a tax professional will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
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