Depending on your financial situation, filing your own taxes costs little more than a few hours of time. However, if you’re a self-employed small business owner, work freelance, have recently gotten married or have had a baby, you may find your income taxes and tax situation have become a lot more complex than last year. TurboTax®—the e-file tax preparation software you used in years past—may no longer be suitable for your personal tax situation. In that case, it may be a good idea to leave it to the tax professionals who can help file your income taxes next tax season.
Types of Tax Preparers
There are several basic types of income tax preparers: certified public accountants (CPAs), enrolled agents, tax attorneys and non-credentialed tax preparers, such as seasonal tax preparers that work in tax firms like H&R Block.
The first three must meet continuing education and licensing requirements and are bound by ethical standards. They're also the only professionals who can represent you before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on all income tax matters, including tax audits, collections and appeals.
Tips for Choosing the Right Tax Return Preparer
Even if a professional is filing your income tax, remember you're still legally responsible for all information on your personal tax return. So, if the tax preparer makes a mistake completing a tax form and includes a tax deduction accidentally, you could be on the hook for any penalties.
- Request a free initial consultation to discuss your needs and questions.
- Be wary of tax preparers who claim they can get you a bigger tax refund or who try to sell you another product funded by your income tax return.
- Avoid tax preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the tax refund.
- Consider whether the individual or firm will be around in the future to answer questions about your income tax return after it’s been filed.
- Check the tax professional credentials and find out if any complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau.
Questions to Ask a Tax Return Preparer
Before committing to a tax preparer, ask these questions:
- Do they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN)? If someone’s being paid for their tax preparation services, they must have a PTIN.
- Will they outsource your tax return's preparation? If the answer’s yes, your personal information, such as your Social Security Number, could be transmitted electronically to another firm, possibly outside the U.S.
- How are their fees determined? Some tax preparers charge by the number of forms or schedules filed while others charge by the hour. Compare the rates of several tax preparers to get the best value to assist with your personal finance planning.
- What’s their experience with IRS tax audits? Do they charge additional fees, should they need to represent you in a tax audit?
- What’s their policy for reimbursing potential fines, penalties and interest on an income tax return they’ve prepared? The professional tax preparer should have insurance for this purpose.
- Don’t forget to check out the IRS online directory of tax return preparers in Next Steps. This list will help you find a professional with the credentials needed to file your return.
- You can also learn more about tax preparer qualifications and credentials on the IRS website.
- Visit our Tax Center if you’re not sure where to get started and want a clearer picture of the scope of this year’s tax filing.
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This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.