Tax season is upon us again and the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is encouraging taxpayers to do some legwork before selecting tax preparation help. Doing your research ahead of time may help you avoid getting hit with fines and fees if your return isn’t correct or filed late. According to the IRS, taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else, so, it’s important to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare your return.
“For many people, working with a tax preparer provides peace of mind,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau. “However, since tax professionals have access to so much of your personal information, you want to be sure to check out their background and qualifications.”
The BBB offers the following advice on how to find a trustworthy tax preparer:
- Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check BBB reports on tax preparers and tax preparation services at www.bbb.org/search.
- Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider. Be sure to 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.
- Make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). A PTIN must be obtained by all tax return preparers who are compensated for preparing or assisting in the preparation of, all or substantially all of any U.S. federal tax return, claim for refund, or other tax form submitted to the IRS.
- Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with your state’s Board of Accountancy (for CPA’s), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.
- Don’t fall for the promise of big refunds. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
- Remember that a Paid Preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. They should also include their appropriate identifying number on the return. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your return.
- Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 17. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year; be sure to find out how you would do so.
- Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.
For more advice on finding professionals you can trust, visit http://www.bbb.org/us/bbb-news.
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The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Visit the BBB’s Centennial website at bbbis100.org.