Tips for finding the right tax preparer

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QUINCY — Taxes can be complicated. If you’ve experienced major life changes, own a business or simply want reassurance that your taxes are being done properly, it might make sense to seek the guidance of a professional tax preparer.

You’ll need to trust your tax preparer with your finances and sensitive personal information, so it’s important to choose someone with a good track record.

Keep in mind that not all tax preparers have the same level of experience and training, so you’ll need to decide which one is the best fit for you. Before you hire someone, research their background and credentials thoroughly, and check their reputation with BBB.

BBB’s tips for hiring a tax preparer:

Know what type of tax preparer is right for you:

  • Enrolled Agent (EA): EAs must pass IRS requirements for testing and education to maintain their titles, and they usually specialize in specific areas of tax law.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): CPAs have a college degree or equivalent experience and are licensed by the state. Their accounting skills make them helpful for complex taxes.
  • Attorney: Tax attorneys charge the highest fees, but are a wise option for taxpayers who need advice on legal matters like municipal bonds or estate planning.
  • Non-credentialed tax preparer: These preparers must have an active preparer tax identification number (PTIN) through the IRS and are regulated at the state level. Most non-credentialed preparers are legitimate and competent, but keep in mind that they don’t have a national license requirement. Interview them thoroughly if you plan to work with them.

Check credentials.

  • EAs, CPAs and attorneys may represent their clients to the IRS on all tax-related matters. Non-credentialed preparers can help you with forms and basic matters, but can’t represent you in the event of an audit. Ask about these and other credentials before you hire someone.
  • Check whether the preparer belongs to a professional organization that requires members to adhere to a code of ethics.

Check out tax preparers with BBB. At BBB.org, you can search BBB Business Profiles to learn about a tax preparer’s track record, such as how long they’ve been in business, a rating from A+ to F and a record of any complaints.

Be wary of upfront promises that you’ll get a refund. Until the preparer knows your situation, there is no way to know whether you’ll get a refund or how big it will be. Avoid tax preparers who promise to get you a bigger refund than the competition and those who offer “refund anticipation loans.”

Check your preparer’s schedule. Some tax preparers only work seasonally. Ask your preparer if they’ll be available for questions or support after tax season is over.

Read the contract and ask about fees. Know what preparing your return will cost, what any fees cover, and whether the cost changes if you have a complicated return or would like to e-file your return.

If things don’t add up, find someone else. If a tax preparer can’t verify their credentials, has a record of bad reviews from previous clients or their business practices don’t seem convincing, don’t do business with them. Remember that your tax preparer will handle your sensitive personal information – you need to work with someone you feel fully confident is trustworthy and reliable.

Check your return. Before you sign the return, read it over to check for mistakes. Ask the preparer to explain anything you don’t understand.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or 217-209-3972.

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