via Moak: How to check out your tax preparer, clarionledger.com, 2/9/2016
Now that most of us have gotten our W2’s, 1099s and various other documents required to do our taxes, businesses and individuals who prepare those taxes are kicking into high gear. You have until April 18 this year to get your individual taxes done, but many of us aren’t waiting.
Finding someone to prepare your taxes is easy. A simple Google search (or a few minutes in front of a local TV channel) will provide you with a wide variety of choices. But increasingly, many consumers have found themselves scammed by shady preparers, finding out their well-meaning-but-incompetent preparer got it wrong, or finding out their preparer misrepresented his or her credentials.
Our tax system allows you to get your taxes done by anybody you want (including yourself). To be a paid tax preparer, all the law requires is that you have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). But if you want to find people who are really qualified, you should do a little research.
The Internal Revenue Service has a tool to help you find qualified preparers. Keep in mind not every preparer can go the distance with you if you have problems with the IRS; the ability of some agents to represent you before the IRS is limited by law. The database allows you to search by zip code or last name, and includes the following:
- Attorneys. Attorneys must possess a current license.
- Certified Public Accountants. CPAs must be in good standing with their state Board of Accountancy.
- Enrolled Agents. These preparers must pass a three-part examination, which requires they demonstrate their proficiency and knowledge, and they must complete 72 hours of continuing education every three years.
- Enrolled Actuaries. These people have a license from an organization called the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries.
- Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents. These individuals are licensed by the IRS and (like enrolled agents) must pass a special exam and 72 hours of continuing education every three years.
- Annual Filing Season participants. These people may not fall in one of the above categories, but the IRS recognizes them as official agents if they complete a certain number of continuing hours in preparation for the specific tax year. Their ability to represent your interests before the IRS is not as broad as those in other categories.
It’s also advisable to check them out by doing an Internet search, or asking for recommendations from friends. Keep in mind, just because someone is on the list, doesn’t mean they will do your taxes for you. It’s up to the individual preparers (and their firms) to determine whether they will take your case. Fees vary, so it’s a good idea to find out their rates in advance.
Here are a few other suggestions (visit irs.gov to get more advice):
- Never sign a blank return.
- Always review your return before signing. Once you sign it, you are certifying its completeness and truth, so you should check everything to make sure it’s accurate and honest.
- Report abuses immediately. If you suspect your preparer has acted dishonestly, report the issue as soon as possible to law enforcement or the IRS.
- Understand your rights. Visit https://www.irs.gov/Taxpayer-Bill-of-Rights to find out what rights you have as a taxpayer.