Fun fact of the day: Did you know over half of US taxpayers hire a professional tax preparer when it comes time to file their taxes? It’s true (at least according to the IRS). Whether you use a tax preparer or not YOU are responsible for what’s on your tax return no matter who prepares it.
Tax Accountants are trust with our most personal information. Through your discussions and documentation they know about your marriage, your income, expenses, and social security numbers. That’s information your own family might now know. All of this sensitive information means that you need to choose your tax preparer wisely. To do that take a look these essentials
First let me say that most tax preparers do a great job. With that being said each and every year some taxpayers are hurt financially because they used an unscrupulous (or just uneducated) tax preparer.
Here are the tips to keep in mind when looking for a tax preparer:
- Check to make sure your tax preparer has a PTIN. This is a Preparer Tax Identification Number. Only tax preparers who have a valid 2015 PTIN are authorized by the IRS to prepare and file federal tax returns. But this is only the first thing to look for because just because they have a PTIN does not mean they actually have the skills, education, and training to prepare taxes.
- Representation Rights – Only CPA’s, attorneys and Enrolled Agents can represent you in front of the IRS. It’s one thing to prepare your return but can your preparer also represent you in the case of an audit or other tax issue. This lead directly into our next thing to look for…
- Credentials – As I mentioned that main ones are enrolled agents, CPAs (Certified Public Accountants, and attorneys. There is also a new RTRP designation which means the tax preparer had to pass a text from the IRS to show a minimum level of competency. Along with this ask if your preparer keeps up on tax matters with continuing education credits and is part of a professional organization.
- Fees – It’s ok to ask a preparer for an estimate of the cost. For new clients this will most likely be a range such as $200-$300. The range is because they won’t know your full tax situation until they get into the details of your tax return. Some tax preparers charge by the hour, some by the form, and others a flat fee. Try to avoid tax preparers that charge a % of your refund. This can lead to a conflict of interest. Since your tax preparer will get a bigger fee if you have a bigger refund they will be very aggressive in taking deductions, credits, etc.
- This one should be obvious but make sure your refund gets deposited into your own account. Taxpayers should never deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
- Make sure your tax preparer is available after tax season and after you file your taxes. Tax Professionals might go on vacation after a long tax season but they shouldn’t close up for the rest of the year. Issues might come up that you’ll want your tax preparer to help with.
- Records and Receipts – Ask what your preparer does with all the receipts and other tax information that they use to prepare your tax return. Good preparers keep digital copies of your information so that they can support the preparation of your return. This also provides you will a backup copy in case you lose or destroy your original tax documents.
- Never Sign a Blank Return – Wait until your return is finalized and you have a chance to review it for accuracy before you sign. Ask if anything isn’t clear to you.
- Make sure your tax preparer also signs the return and includes their PTIN. This is required by law and only unprofessional tax preparers will not sign a tax return that they prepare.
- Make sure you get a copy of your tax return. Whether it’s a digital or printed copy you should keep a copy for your own records.
Follow these tips and you should have no problem finding a good tax preparer this tax season. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions of any potential preparer. After all it’s your responsibility to ensure your tax return is accurate. Or better yet ask us! PJF Tax preparers taxes for hundreds of tax clients and is still taking on additional clients for the 2015 tax season. Call or a quote today!