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What the IRS suggest you should look for in a tax preparer

Tax preparation can be daunting. If you don't qualify for a 1040EZ, chances are you may be looking for someone to prepare your taxes for you. As your finances become more complex, your taxes can become progressively much more complex.

It can be reassuring to have an "expert" complete your taxes. However, as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reminds everyone, you are always responsible for the content of your tax return. To help, the IRS has put together a list of things to look for when hiring a tax preparer.

Check the preparer's qualifications. Ask for the Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The IRS requires that all paid tax return preparer have one of these numbers. They also suggest that you inquire if the preparer attends continuing education classes and is a member of any professional organizations.

Check on the preparer's history. You should check on their work history with the Better Business Bureau, to see if they have had any complaints or disciplinary actions. State boards will have records for certified public accountants (CPA) or attorneys. The IRS Office of Enrollment is where to check for questions on enrolled agents.

Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who charge based on a percentage of your return or claim they can obtain a larger refund. Tax law is complex, but it is not magic. Make certain any refund you receive goes into your bank account, not an account of the preparer.

Ask to e-file your return. For safety and your own convenience, your preparer should use e-file for your return. The IRS notes that if they prepare more than 10 returns, they must e-file, unless a client requests a paper return.

Make sure the preparer is accessible. Know how to get a hold of your preparer. This is especially important after your return is filed. If the IRS contacts you concerning your return, you need to be able to easily contact your preparer.

Next week, we'll look at some of their additional tips.

Source: Internal Revenue Service, "Ten Tips to Help You Choose a Tax Preparer," February 5, 2013

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