First, remember that free tax preparation is an option.
You can generally file your taxes for free if you are age 60 or older, are disabled, speak limited or no English, or your annual income is $54,000 or less at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or AARP Tax Aide site. Returns are prepared by IRS-certified volunteers.
When tax time rolls around, many people seek help from tax professionals to file their taxes. If you use a paid preparer to file your tax return, choose carefully because you are legally responsible for what is on your return.
Keep these tips from the IRS in mind when choosing a paid preparer:
- Check the preparer’s qualifications. All paid preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask if the preparer belongs to a professional organization and attends continuing education classes.
- Read reviews of the preparer. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. Also look for any disciplinary actions and for the status of their licenses. For certified public accountants, go to the state boards of accountancy. For attorneys, check with the state bar associations. For enrolled agents, IRS Office of Enrollment will be able to help.
- Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers can. Also, always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into an account in your name.
- Check that the preparer is accessible. Make sure you will be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return, even after Tax Day. This may be helpful in the event questions arise about your tax return.
- Review the entire return before signing. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions. Make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
Things to watch out for when working with a paid preparer:
- Ask to e-file your return. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients must file the returns electronically, unless the client opts to file a paper return. IRS has safely and securely processed more than one billion individual tax returns since the debut of electronic filing in 1990.
- Provide records and receipts. Reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts. They will ask you questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for deductions, credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return by using your last pay stub before you receive your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
- Never sign a blank return. Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.
- Make sure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN. A paid preparer must sign the return and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
If you have a bad experience with a tax preparer:
You can report tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or altered a return without telling you, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. Download the forms on the IRS.gov website or order them by mail at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).