Choose A Qualified Tax Preparer

A qualified tax preparer can be the difference between a meaty refund and a soul-crushing audit. The Washington Attorney General has several excellent pointers to help you find the right professional to prepare your return.

  • Choose a preparer who will assist you if the IRS audits your return. Only attorneys, Certified Public Accountants and IRS enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection and appeals. Also, know how the preparer checks returns for accuracy.
  • Ask your friends and coworkers to recommend a preparer they know and trust and choose someone local, so that you can easily find the person later. Ask questions related to the person’s credentials and experience.
  • Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides or requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
  • Search [your] State Board of Accountancy’s Web site at to determine whether a CPA is licensed and call to inquire if a CPA has a history of violations. You can check out attorneys through [your state] Bar Association and enrolled agents through the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility. The Better Business Bureau is also a good resource for determining whether a tax preparer has a history of complaints.
  • Ask who will prepare your return. Avoid firms where your work may be delegated down to someone with less training or an unknown worker.
  • Inquire about costs. Be skeptical of preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers, or who guarantee results or base fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund.
  • Once you’ve hired a preparer, be sure to review the return carefully before you sign it in ink; never sign a blank or partially completed form. The preparer must also sign the return and include an identifying number. Retain copies of all documents.
  • Preparation goofs that earned taxpayers fines accounted for one-third of all tax-related complaints to the Better Business Bureau. Take the time now to find the right preparer and save yourself a costly headache down the road.

    Choosing a tax preparer [All Consuming]
    (Photo:Chad Beckerman)

    Comments

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    1. CumaeanSibyl says:

      Hooray, it’s Tax Cat! Don’t listen to the haters. :)

    2. laserjobs says:

      I am thinking about H&R Block with the Visa® Prepaid Card tax refund advance like I see on TV.

    3. H&R Block offers every return it’s standard guarantee which includes audit support and payment of penalties and fees if due to HRB error. They also offer a Peace of Mind extended service plan ($30) that offers an Enrolled Agent to accompany the client to the IRS for the audit and payments, penalties, and interest up to $5000.00 if due to HRB error.

    4. yorick328 says:

      H & R Block is essentially a lender that will charge you usurious rates if you get a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) and tack on charges you will most likely never need if they prepared the return correctly in the first place!
      I’ve seen some of their prepared returns with inflated deductions that invite audits and heard stories firsthand of their preparer disappearing after tax season.

    5. ConsumptionJunkie says:

      im in yur taxas

      attractin yur audits

    6. johnva says:

      @WoefulWednesday: Read the title of the post again. It says “Choose a QUALIFIED Tax Preparer”.

    7. CumaeanSibyl says:

      @ConsumptionJunkie: Who has time to read when they’re busy shilling?

    8. The Stork says:

      I usually go to H&R Block and have no problems at all. This year was the first opportunity to file as married, and when the guy that helped us came to the extra protection plan they offer he explained it quickly, threw the paper to the side and said, “you don’t need this. Don’t buy it.” He knew it would only possibly be valuable for someone with a complicated return, not a young couple that was just filing simply with nothing to dispute. I liked it.

    9. Pink Puppet says:

      @WoefulWednesday: Oh, the sweet sound of shilling. Like nails on the chalkboard, it is. Keep singing your sweet song, H&R monkey!

    10. I guess I’m just excited to help people out as a tax preparer. I’ve heard stories from clients that have gone to other tax preparers and get audited and were told they were on their own.

      BTW I am a QUALIFIED tax preparer. I have well over 50 hours of tax law training each year. Ask a CPA how much tax training they have a year.

    11. Choose… my dad! He’s a CPA in Bucks County, PA. If you’re interested, let me know.

    12. burgundyyears says:

      Biggest misconception people have is that CPAs = income tax specialists. Many have no training whatsoever in the field. Keep that in mind.

    13. @WoefulWednesday: @Charity Froggenhall:

      yeah…umm-NO

      my finger finger is still on the wall…who is worthy nobody knows. maybe my moms (probably) but if you’re local (Metro CT area) I would love to unload the burden from my mom and do busiess with you. discounteggroll gmail. ’nuff said

    14. MYarms says:

      My girlfriend went to 2 different H&R Block people to prepare her taxes and they both came up with drastically different refunds. She didn’t like that so much so she ended up going somewhere else entirely.

    15. lukobe says:

      Best way? Ask someone you trust whom they use. And if your taxes are simple enough, do them yourself. Use TurboTax.

    16. AnonyLawyer says:

      If I’m the subject of an IRS audit this year or any year, there’s no chance in France I’m allowing an H&R Block representative to assist me with their “audit support”. ANYONE can work at H&R Block. Maybe they require you to have mathematical acumen, but I doubt that. I called one year (before finding my accountant, an IRS enrolled agent) and asked a few random questions about my deductions (I itemize) and listened to a confused employee relay the wrong answers (I later learned) back to me. Get a referral from a trusted friend.

    17. disavow says:

      CPAs are close behind credit unions for consumer “holy hand grenades,” lobbed at every problem whether relevant or not. Fill in the blanks:
      “I’ve never been stranded penniless in Japan by my _________.”
      “I’ve never sat in piss at my _________’s office.”
      “I’ve never been assaulted by lemurs when visiting my _________.”

      Fact is, CPAs focus primarily on accounting for businesses and upscale clients. Enrolled agents, on the other hand, specifically exist to provide tax-code expertise.
      IRS EA website

      @AnonyLawyer: ONLY CPAs, EAs, and attorneys are allowed to represent you before the IRS. If a company offers audit protection, then they’re required by law to have someone qualified to represent you.

    18. anatak says:

      H&R Block and Jackson Hewett are a rip. Too expensive for the service provided. Mostly interested in up-selling the consumer on the equivalent of extended warranties, and trying to talk you into their rip-of loan service.

      There are plenty of ‘mom and pop’ CPAs out there for individuals’ taxes, and a good number of them that actually do it the right way. To find them, I use Dave Ramsey’s ELP service.
      [www.daveramsey.com]

      I’ve used sever of his ELPs and never had a bad experience. The screening process is already done for you.

      Now if only we can get the Fair Tax in place and we won’t need any of this crap.

    19. @burgundyyears: Actually my father does have to attend mandatory tax law training every year or so to maintain his CPA license.

      To my knowledge, his clients — some of whom have been going to him for 30+ years — have never had an audit when he prepared their taxes.

    20. @AnonyLawyer:

      H&R Block sends you with an IRS Enrolled Agent, just to clarify.

    21. TPSreports says:

      Dear god in heaven, DO NOT GO TO H&R BLOCK!!!!

      Find a local CPA. Pick any one in the phone book. Talk to a small business owner for a referral.

      What would you rather choose? McDonald’s or the well-respected diner with lunch made from fresh local ingredients?

    22. radio1 says:

      Hey JohnVA and TPSreports,

      H&R Block offer the most extensive and required tax training in the industry. CPAs, tax lawyers and independent EA (Enrolled Agents) often take Block’s classes.

      I am a former preparer for Block (7 years) and I’ve personally corrected returns from CPAs and tax lawyers. My wife’s best friend uses a CPA and one year she did not like what she got back, so I looked at her return, and this ‘trusted’ was taking off the wall deductions. Like, I wondered why they have not been audited. So, I told her, I can do your taxes better, but you’d get back less.

      You always look for some one who you feel comfortable and knows his stuff. Certifications are meaningless.

      Most CPAs and tax lawyers, hire tax preparers from Block, JH, college business students or anywhere else to do their stacks of returns. So, your ‘CPA-prepared’ return may have actually been prepared by a junior business school major. And only signed by the CPA.

      Caveat emptor, the only thing I can recommend is if you are going to use a big service, is to ask if it is corporate run or a franchise. Here in NE, all Blocks are corporate and provide better service since, corporate is running the districts and there is no interference from franchisee owners.

    23. FinanceGuru says:

      @radio1: Sorry. You’re FOS.

      There’s no support for the assertion that tax professionals other than HRB’s own people, and interested amateurs take HRB classes. I go to PLI and ABA conferences, like most of my colleagues.

      Most tax lawyers don’t prepare income tax returns, thus have no need to hire somebody from HRB. I know a lot of people in the tax community, and I don’t know anyone who has ever hired anybody from HRB.

      @burgundyyears: True. Some CPAs are auditors or work in business advisory. But they don’t hold themselves out as tax professionals.
      If they do hold themselves out, they’ve got to stand behind their work, or face IRS/local jurisdiction/civil suits for professional negligence.

      So, what was your point again?