Feature Articles: Taxes
Advice for choosing a tax preparer
Reviewed and adapted with special permission from the IRS by: Andrew Zumwalt, Extension Associate, Personal Financial Planning, University of Missouri Extension
If you pay someone to do your taxes, be careful. Most tax return preparers are professional and honest, but some are not. Some preparers offer high-cost services or arrange refund anticipation loans that reduce refunds. Take the time to find a qualified tax professional. As a taxpayer, you are ultimately responsible for everything on your return no matter who prepared it. Consider using the tips below to choose a preparer who best meets your tax preparation needs.
- Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who claim they can
get larger refunds than others, those who guarantee results
or those whose fees are based on a percentage of the refund.
- Choose a preparer you will be able to reach after the return
is filed. Some preparers only operate during the tax season.
- Ask questions and get references from tax preparers’ former
clients. Were they satisfied with the service? Did they pay
- Beware of a preparer who guarantees results or who bases
fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund. A practitioner
may not charge a contingent fee (percentage of your refund)
for preparing an original tax return.
- Understand that the most reputable preparers will request
to see your receipts and will ask you multiple questions to
determine your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other
items. By doing so they have your best interest in mind and
are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest or additional
taxes that could result from an IRS examination.
- Choose a preparer you will be able to contact and one who
will be responsive to your needs. Ask who will actually prepare
the return before engaging services. Avoid firms where your
work may be delegated down to someone with less training or
some unknown worker. You should know exactly who works with
your tax matters at all times and how to contact him or her;
after all, you are paying for it. Determine if the preparer
is exporting your return to a foreign country for preparation.
Foreign countries do not have the same security and privacy
laws as the United States nor is there any recourse should your
information be compromised as a result of lax or nonexistent
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer
has a history of complaints. Contact the state's board of accountancy
for CPAs or the state's bar association for attorneys. Find
out if the preparer belongs to a professional organization that
requires members to pursue continuing education and that also
holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
- Check preparers’ credentials. Are they an enrolled agent,
Certified Public Accountant or tax attorney? Only enrolled agents,
CPAs and attorneys can represent taxpayers with the IRS in audits,
collection actions and appeals. Other return preparers may represent
taxpayers only in audits of a return they signed as a preparer.
- Do you qualify for free tax preparation services? Many communities have Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites. Through these programs, volunteers provide assistance to low-income, disabled, homebound and English-as-a-second-language taxpayers. For more information on the VITA or TCE programs and how to locate sites in your area, visit http://extension.missouri.edu/hes/taxed/vitasites.htm
Taking time to do your homework can pay off by saving you money and helping you avoiding the headache of dealing with an unqualified or dishonest preparer. Report suspected tax fraud and abusive tax preparers to the IRS by calling 1-800-829-0433.
Source: IRS Tax Tip 2006-06
Last update: Monday, January 12, 2015