Point #1: Choose someone else, not yourself.
Given the complexities of current tax law, you might consider hiring a professional to prepare your return for you. Here are tips from the IRS to help you choose a good preparer:
1. Check the person’s qualifications. Ask if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and resources and holds them to a code of ethics. New regulations require all paid preparers (including attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents) to obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number before preparing any federal tax returns.
2. Check on the preparer’s history. See if consumers have filed complaints with private watchdog groups. Check for disciplinary actions and valid licenses with the state board of accountancy (for certified public accountants), state bar association (for attorneys) and the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (for enrolled agents).
3. Ask about the cost of preparing your return. Avoid preparers whose fee is a percentage of your refund and those who claim they can obtain a larger refund for you than other preparers.
4. Make sure the preparer is accessible. You want to be able to contact the preparer throughout the year.
5. Ask the preparer to describe the documents he or she wants to see. Reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts and will ask you questions to help them prepare your return. Avoid preparers who do not ask for documents and who never ask you questions.
6. Never sign a blank return. Avoid tax preparers who ask you to sign blank tax forms.
7. Will the preparer sign your tax return along with you and include his or her PTIN? The law requires paid preparers to sign the return and include their PTIN, even though you remain responsible for the return’s accuracy. The preparer must also give you a copy of your return.
8. If mistakes are made, will the preparer pay the interest and penalties levied by the IRS? Remember that you’re always legally responsible for the information that appears on your return, even when someone else prepares it. Although you’ll owe the tax, honorable and professional preparers will agree to pay any interest or penalties resulting from their errors. Get their promise in writing and in advance.
If you discover that you’ve become involved with an abusive tax preparer, or if you suspect tax fraud, file Form 14157-A. You can download the form at www.irs.gov or have one mailed to you by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).