Since a tax preparer will have access to all your private information, you should take the following extra steps to choose a qualified professional:
- First confirm that anyone who claims to be a tax preparer is actually qualified to do so. This can be accomplished by asking preparers for an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number.
- Find out whether your preparer has any certifications, belongs to any organizations, or has completed any continuing education courses. You can verify these statuses by searching online. For CPA's, visit the respective State Accountancy Boards, the individual state Bar Associations for lawyers, and the www.IRS.gov site for agents. Depending on their credentials, the preparers can be legally authorized to represent taxpayers in any upcoming IRS audits.
- Understand what the filing fee is. Don't accept any preparer who bases fees on a percentage of refunds. Arrange to have any refunds mailed directly to your address. For safe measures, enroll in the automatic deposit option offered on your return.
- Be sure your return is filed electronically. It's the safest and fastest method to get your return into the hands of the government, and you have a paper trail.
- Avoid any preparers who ask you to sign your own return as the preparer. They may charge you less to file the return, but they will also be unwilling and incapable to help you should any future questions arise.
- A good tax preparer requests documents and receipts, asks relevant questions, and conforms to the tax laws. Anything that appears or feels shady, usually is.