It’s no secret, filing taxes is a confusing and daunting task. People everywhere dread the process of making sure their taxes are in order and submitted before the deadline.
To ease the pain of the process, some people elect to hire a tax preparer. These services are responsible for preparing an individual’s taxes and will also help the individual if there are any other problems with their taxes or if they are audited.
While these services can be helpful, Better Business Bureau warns consumers to always use caution when finding a tax preparer. Tax preparers have access to your personal information, so it’s important to choose a reputable and respectable service.
In 2019, BBB processed over 1,500 complaints against tax return preparation services. The median disputed amount for which consumers sought BBB’s help was $495. BBB has also received more than 1,000 reports to BBB Scam Tracker about tax-related scams.
BBB offers advice on how to properly vet a tax preparer:
• Do your research. Ask friends and family for recommendations.
• Check preparer’s reputation, years of service and the variety of tax forms completed. What is their area of expertise? Make sure you are comfortable with them.
• Decide what type of services you need. Are you looking for someone long term or for a one-time instance? Do you just need someone to complete your tax return? Do you need a year-round financial adviser?
• Discuss costs. Remember, the fees should be related to the complexity of your tax return, not the amount of the refund. Tax preparers should not guarantee a refund before completing a return.
• Prepare all the information you’ll need ahead of time. Provide as much information as you can relating to your taxes. The more information your tax preparer has, the better equipped he or she is to help you.
• Make sure your preparer has a PTIN from the IRS. He or she should put it on your tax return. Never let someone work on your taxes unless they have this number. Don’t be afraid to ask about this or other qualifications; a capable professional does not mind questions.
• Keep in mind, some preparers offer immediate payment of returns for a fee. This is a loan. If you accept the offer, be aware of the terms. Read the fine print before signing any agreement.
• Make sure you’re able to reach the preparer after you file your return. If you have any further questions or in the event of an audit, you will need to contact him or her.
• Ask how your personal information is protected, how many people will see your information, is data encrypted and how the preparer protects against computer network breaches?
• Be sure the tax preparer offers IRS e-file. The IRS requires any paid preparer who does more than 10 returns for clients to file electronically via the IRS e-file system. Also, this is the quickest way to get your refund.
• Check for credentials. Some tax preparers have more training and qualifications than others. Enrolled agents, certified public accountants and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent their clients to the IRS on all matters.
• 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.
• Search for free tax programs. There are several tax preparations services that prepare taxes for free if you meet an income requirement. Visit the IRS’s Free File page for more information.
Filing your taxes doesn’t have to be hard. A respectable tax preparer can help you file your taxes on time and with ease. As always, check BBB Business Profiles at bbb.org to vet tax preparers in your area.
If you have questions or would like to learn more, visit bbb.org or call 937-222-5825 or 800-776-5301.
The writer is the president and CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Dayton and Miami Valley.