Taxpayers should choose their tax return preparer wisely – with good reason. Taxpayers are responsible for all the information on their income tax return. That’s true no matter who prepares the return. Here are some IRS tax tips to keep in mind:
1. Check the preparer’s qualifications. Use the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credential and Select Qualifications. This tool helps taxpayers find a tax return preparer with the qualifications they prefer. The directory is a searchable and sortable listing of preparers with credentials of filing season qualifications. It includes the name, city, state and Zip code. Attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent any client before the IRS in any situation. Annual Filing Season Program participants may represent clients in more limited situations.
Non-credentialed preparers who do not participate in the Annual Filing.
Season Program may only represent clients before the IRS on returns they prepared and signed on or before Dec. 31, 2015.
2. Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who boast bigger refunds than their competition. When inquiring about a preparer’s services and fees, don’t give them tax documents, Social Security numbers and other information. Some preparers have improperly used this information to file returns without the taxpayer’s permission.
3. Ask to e-file. Taxpayers should make sure their preparer offers IRS e-file. Paid preparers who do taxes for more than 10 clients generally must file electronically. The IRS has safely processed billions of e-filed tax returns.
4. Make sure the preparer is available. Taxpayers may want to contact their preparer after this year’s April 18 due date. Avoid fly-by-night preparers.
5. Provide records and receipts. Good preparers will ask to see a taxpayer’s records and receipts. They’ll ask questions to figure the total income, tax deductions, credits, etc. Taxpayers should not use a preparer who will e-file their return using their last pay stub instead of a Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
6. Never sign a blank return. Do not use a tax preparer who asks a taxpayer to sign a blank tax form.
7. Review Before Signing. Before you sign a tax return, review it. Ask questions if something is not clear. Taxpayers should feel comfortable with the accuracy of their return before they sign it. They should also make sure that their refund goes directly to them – not to the preparer’s bank account. Review the routing and bank account number on the completed return.
8. Ensure preparer signs and includes their PTIN. All paid tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). By law, paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN.
9. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. Most tax return preparers are honest and provide great service to their clients. However, some preparers are dishonest. Report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS.
10. Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax returns. Taxpayers should keep copies of their tax records for at least 3 years. Depending on the type of taxes and your situation, you may have to keep your records longer. For more details, read “How Long Should I Keep Records” on www.irs.gov.
Constant W. Watson III, CPA, CTRS, is both a certified public accountant and a certified tax resolution specialist. He is only one of six certified tax resolution specialists in the State of Illinois who are certified by The American Society of Tax Problem Solvers. With more than 30 years of income tax and accounting experience, he has a reputation for excellence and client satisfaction. For a free consultation, call him at (708) 206-9900.