Most people get help filing their taxes, either from computer software or a professional tax preparer. In addition, some filers may have questions regarding COVID-19’s impact on their personal taxes.
But horror stories in the media about tax service rip-offs and scams have some consumers concerned about who they can trust with their financial data and private information.
A paid tax return preparer is primarily responsible for the overall, substantive accuracy of your tax return(s). If there is a problem with your return or you are audited by the Internal Revenue Service, the tax preparer can help you address the issue and can often represent you. The preparer is required to sign your tax forms (paper or electronic) and provide their preparer tax identification number (PTIN), a number assigned by the IRS.
The Better Business Bureau advises taxpayers to be extra cautious when choosing a tax preparer since that person or company will have access to your personally identifiable information (PII). Here are some BBB tips to help you find a tax preparer you can trust.
Get referrals. To find a tax preparer, start by asking friends and family for recommendations, then check BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org. Look beyond the letter grade; complaint details and Customer Reviews will tell you about others’ experiences.
Make sure they are properly registered. A tax preparer must obtain a PTIN from the IRS. Never let someone work on your taxes unless they have this number. Don’t be afraid to ask about this or other qualifications; a capable professional does not mind questions.
Look for credentials. Anyone with a PTIN can prepare your tax forms for you, but some tax preparers have more training and qualifications than others. Enrolled agents, certified public accountants and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent their clients to the IRS on all matters. Other preparers can help you with forms and simple IRS matters, but are limited otherwise, and they can’t help you if they didn’t prepare your form. Learn more about tax preparer credentials on the IRS website.
Keep a watchful eye for promises. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than their competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
Also be wary of “refund anticipation loans,” which can take a hefty chunk of your refund in commission. Refunds are processed quickly these days, so it’s a better bet to just wait for the real thing rather than pay a premium to get it now. Refund Anticipation Loans also created some delays for many individuals receiving stimulus payments within the last year.
Search for free tax programs. There are several free government programs that prepare taxes free of charge if you meet an income requirement; go to the IRS’s Free File page for more information. Most will also file your state return as well. If not, check with your state’s Department of Revenue to find out about their programs.
Use safe, reliable tax software and apps. If you plan to file yourself, use tax software or an app that provides both excellent data security and good customer service. Some of the top names in tax prep software are BBB Accredited Businesses, so check with bbb.org first.
New tax laws can help create confusion that dishonest preparers will capitalize on, so taxpayers should always review their return before signing, ask questions on entries they do not understand. Also, be sure to get a copy of the return for your records.
Finally, do not ever sign a blank tax form or one filled out in pencil!
For more trustworthy consumer tips, visit BBB.org.
Kelvin Collins is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, which includes the Augusta-Aiken metro area. Direct questions or complaints about a specific company or charity to (800) 763-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Kelvin Collins: Here's how to find a trustworthy tax preparer