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.