It has been said there are only two things that you cannot escape, death and taxes. For some people, preparing a tax return is a fate worse than death, or at least it seems like it.
With so many different companies and individuals offer tax preparation these days, it can be confusing when it comes to making a selection. Many different kinds of promises are made, and not all are kept. The BBB would like to offer these tips to help find the right tax preparer:
1. Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use, and check BBB reports on tax preparers and tax preparation services at www.bbb.org.
2. Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider. Be sure to 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.
3. Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with Ohio’s Board of Accountancy (for CPA’s), the Ohio State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility for enrolled agents.
4. Don’t fall for the promise of big refunds. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
5. Remember, a paid preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. They should also include their appropriate identifying number on the return. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your return.
6. Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year; be sure to find out how you would do so.
7. Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time-consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.
Another suggestion that might save you a lot of trouble and wasted time: Don’t be too eager to spend that refund you are expecting. Many companies like to offer you special deals on all kinds of items, cars, appliances and other high-ticket items. If you use your tax refund as either payment or a down payment that’s great, if your tax refund is what you expect. It’s not so great if it turns out to be less or, in worst case scenario, you owe the IRS.
Neil Winget is the president of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.