Tax season is here once again, but don’t rush to the nearest tax preparer before doing your homework. In 2016 alone, the Justice Department reported “more than 2.1 million returns claimed fraudulent refunds totaling more than $15.7 billion.” Contributing to that total were unscrupulous tax preparers who tarnished an otherwise reputable industry with promises of unreasonably high refunds or outright theft of personal data.
To make sure you’re working with a reputable tax preparer, it’s a good idea to check their complaint and review history at bbb.org. Check licensure status through the state boards of accountancy for certified public accountants; the state bar associations for attorneys; and the IRS Office of Enrollment for enrolled agents.
Also, before turning over your most sensitive financial documents to a tax preparer, take time to interview them first. Here are 8 questions to ask:
- Are you a Registered Tax Return Preparer? CPA? Enrolled Agent?
- Do you have an IRS-issued Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN)?
- What is the service fee? Is it a flat rate or based on the refund amount?
- If I receive a refund, where will it be deposited? – It should never be deposited into the tax preparer’s account.
- Does the tax preparer offer electronic filing?
- Once tax season is over, will this office remain open should there be a problem with my tax return?
- What documents will you need to prepare my taxes? Watch out for a tax preparer who is willing to file your taxes without looking at your W-2. Doing so is against IRS regulations.
- When will I be able to review and sign my tax return? Never sign a blank return; make sure the tax preparer also signs it and includes their PTIN. Always review your tax return for accuracy before it is filed.