BBB offers consumers tips on finding a tax preparer
Tax season is here once again, and thanks to the demise of the so-called payroll tax holiday — which expired on Dec. 31— all workers will pay higher taxes in 2013.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds people that it’s better to start gathering the materials you’ll need to file your 2012 tax return earlier rather than waiting until the last minute. And don’t forget, IRS rules say taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else, so it’s important to be selective when hiring an individual or firm to prepare your return.
“Most tax professionals provide quality service,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, in a news release. “Still, we have seen cases where businesses have closed suddenly or stopped communicating with their clients. It’s important to check out company track records and feel comfortable with the tax preparer you choose.”
The BBB offers the following advice on tax preparation and 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.
■ Don’t fall for the promise of big refunds. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and steer clear of tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
■ 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 certified public accountants), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.
■ 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 15. 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.
■ Don’t forget about Free File. If your income is $57,000 or less, Free File offers free Federal tax preparation and e-filing. It’s available only through IRS.gov http://www.IRS.gov, where a number of tax software companies make their products available for free. Some also support state tax returns for free. http://www.irs.gov/uac/Free-File:-Do-Your-Federal-Taxes-for-Free.
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. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 800-646-6222.