Tips for hiring a tax preparer

FILE - This July 24, 2018, file photo shows a portion of the 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form. It’s the time of year to start thinking about taxes - what's ahead and what can be done now to manage. But the upcoming tax filing season is going to be trickier for many Americans due to rampant unemployment, working from home and general upheaval due to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
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FILE - This July 24, 2018, file photo shows a portion of the 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form. It’s the time of year to start thinking about taxes - what's ahead and what can be done now to manage. But the upcoming tax filing season is going to be trickier for many Americans due to rampant unemployment, working from home and general upheaval due to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Doing your taxes can be overwhelming. This year, you may be looking for someone to help with the process. While doing your own taxes may not cost anything, it can be confusing and full of jargon you might not fully understand. Hiring someone used to tax concepts and terms may be your best bet.

A tax preparer is a professional who knows a lot about the system and how to get the most out of your taxes. They include enrolled agents, tax attorneys and CPAs. Verify these credentials as you shop for a trustworthy professional.

If you want to hire a tax preparer, Better Business Bureau offers these tips:

  • Ask friends and family for recommendations and check online reviews.
  • Compare rates. Make sure you get a reasonable price, understanding that some lower prices may be too good to be true.
  • Confirm the preparer is properly licensed and is registered with the IRS and the state.
  • Ask the preparer if he or she is a member of a professional organization, such as the National Association of Tax Professionals, the National Association of Enrolled Agents, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants or the American Academy of Attorney CPAs.
  • Check the preparer’s reputation, years of service and the variety of tax forms completed.
  • Meet with them before making your final decision. A face-to-face meeting can help alleviate your tax anxieties. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You should not do business with someone unwilling to answer your questions.
  • Inquire as to how your personal information will be kept safe.
  • Look for a preparer who will e-file your returns. The IRS requires any paid preparer who does more than 10 returns for clients to file electronically via the IRS’ e-file system.
  • Be sure the tax preparer will be available even after the filing season is over. You may need them to represent you in an audit.
  • Get a contract, which includes the cost, what the fee covers and whether the cost changes if you have a complicated return.
  • Check your return for mistakes before signing and be sure all blanks are completed before submitting it. Even if you don’t prepare your own forms, you’re still legally responsible for what is on them.

As you shop for a tax preparer there are few red flags to watch out for. Don’t trust anyone who promises you’ll get a refund. Until the preparer knows your situation, there’s no way to know whether you’ll get a refund or how big it will be. Likewise, never use a tax preparer who offers to file your return using your last pay stub instead of your W-2, this is against IRS rules. Also, avoid preparers claiming they’ll prepare your tax return for a percentage of the refund or any tax preparer who won’t provide information of how they charge before doing work. And, be wary of a tax preparer that’s not willing to sign your return or provide you with their Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).

For additional help hiring a tax preparer, visit BBB.org or call 937-222-5825 or 800-776-5301. BBB can provide lists of BBB Accredited Businesses in the industry and Business Profiles on ones you may be considering.