We file our taxes year-after-year and yet, the process is often confusing. Between gathering financial documents and understanding new tax laws, testing your math skills may be the last thing you want to do. Therefore, you find many Americans enlisting the help of a tax preparer each year.
However, if you aren’t selective in choosing a preparer your taxes could return with a cost. BBB often receives complaints that individuals were stuck paying a fine or fee as a result of errors in their tax return. Even though the preparer completes the return, it’s the taxpayer who is ultimately responsible for its accuracy and whether or not it's filed on time. Be smart in choosing a tax preparer as they are not licensed, regulated or vetted in any way by the state or federal government.
Here are a few BBB tips to help you get started in your search for reliable tax help:
- Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check BBB Reliability Reports on tax preparation services at www.bbb.org.
- Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an enrolled agent. All three can represent you before the IRS in all matters, including an audit. Also, find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that holds its members to a code of ethics.
- Don’t fall for the promise of a big refund. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid any tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
- 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.
- 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.