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Tax time is upon us once again. Whether your financial circumstances have changed, you’ve gotten married (or divorced), or you’re just tired of filing on your own, a professional tax preparer can help. Consider these tips for choosing a good one.

  • Make sure he/she has the proper qualifications. All tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. Ask the professional you’re considering hiring to show you his/hers. Or check out their qualifications yourself through the IRS’s online directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers.

  • Check out his/her background and history. Many different types of professionals may offer tax preparation services including certified financial planners (CFPs), certified public accountants (CPAs), enrolled agents (EAs), participants in the annual filing season program (AFSP), volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) volunteers, and bookkeepers. As long as they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, they can legally file your Federal Tax Return. However, you should still check their history with the Better Business Bureau and the IRS.

  • Ask about services fees and how those fees are determined. Prices may vary based on the complexity of your return. For example, someone who is self-employed or who has investment income may need to pay more for tax preparation than someone who requires merely the standard 1040-EZ. Some preparers will offer a discount on Federal Tax Return preparation but charge more for state returns. In all cases, avoid any preparer who charges fees as a percentage of your refund. They may encourage credits or deductions that are inappropriate for your circumstances, leaving you vulnerable to audit.

  • Make sure you will be given a copy of your return.Depending on the type of professional you’ve chosen and your tax return’s level of complexity, he or she may need additional time to complete the paperwork before filing. However, you should still receive a copy of the final document (whether in digital or paper form) within a reasonable amount of time.

  • Choose a tax preparer that will still be accessible after tax season. This time of year, dozens of tax preparation businesses pop up only to disappear a month or two later. In the event that you’re audited, or even just have questions about your return down the line, you’ll need to be able to contact your tax preparer for assistance.

And on the topic of audits… While they are fairly rare—the IRS audited less than 1 percent of tax filers in 2014—they do happen. And some individuals are more likely to be audited due to their financial circumstances. These include the nation’s highest earners and those who claim no earnings at all, people filing international returns, small business owners and the self-employed. If you fall into any of these groups, you may want to select an attorney, CPA or enrolled agent to prepare your taxes as they are the only professionals with unlimited representation rights. This means they can represent you if you are audited by the IRS.


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