When you hire a tax preparer, you want to find the best preparer, one who will maximize your tax return and file everything correctly. And then, of course, you also want to make sure that the tax professional you hire is trustworthy, since your tax preparer will be privy to so much of your personal information. But how do you find a tax preparer that is skilled, qualified, and trustworthy? Below, we’re answering this question as we share our top tips on how to find the best tax preparer near you.
1. Always Ask for a Preparer Tax Identification Number
Before you hire any tax preparer, you should check to make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The IRS requires that people who get compensated for preparing a tax return have a PTIN. If the person you hire to do your taxes doesn’t have a PTIN, they won’t even be able to file your return. So always check up front to make sure your potential tax preparer has a PTIN.
2. Check for Further Qualifications: CPAs, Enrolled Agents, Tax Attorneys
Checking for a PTIN is just the first step in assessing a tax preparer’s qualifications. A PTIN is fairly easy to get, so you’ll also want to make sure your tax preparer has some other kind of credential that proves they are qualified to prepare your taxes. We recommend searching for a tax preparer who is also a certified public accountant (CPA), an IRS Enrolled Agent, or a tax attorney. All three of these credentials require various amounts of intensive study, exams, and ongoing education in tax law.
3. Consider Fees
Before hiring any tax preparer, make sure you understand their fee structure up front. Some tax preparers may charge by the hour, while others may have a fee structure that’s based on the complexity of your return. It’s important to ask your potential tax preparer about fees not only because you want to fully understand the price you’ll pay for their services, but also because you want to make sure they’re willing to talk fees with you. Not every legitimate tax preparer charges the same way, but all legitimate tax preparers will be upfront about the way they charge. If you encounter a tax preparer who won’t discuss pricing with you or is vague about pricing, consider that a red flag.
4. Check to See if They E-File
If a tax preparer files more than 10 client returns in any given tax season, the IRS requires that they e-file. So it’s a good idea to check to see whether or not your potential tax preparer offers e-file. If they don’t, consider that a sign that they aren’t doing much tax preparation.
5. Make Sure They’re Up-to-Date
It’s always important that your tax preparer stays informed about tax law, since tax law is constantly evolving. But now, it’s perhaps more important than ever, since the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made enormous changes to our tax code.
There are some credentials that can help you understand whether or not a tax preparer is up-to-date on current laws. For example, both CPAs and Enrolled Agents must take continuing education courses, so they should be well informed about the new tax laws. If your potential tax preparer is not a CPA or an EA, be sure to ask them how they’ve stayed up-to-date with the new tax changes.
6. Check for Added Protection
Our last tip is to ask your potential tax preparer if they can assist you if you have any unforeseen issues with your return. For example, could they represent you if you are audited? Or can they help make changes to your return if needed? Some tax preparers can assist you and represent you in front of the IRS, while others cannot. For example, Enrolled Agents, CPAs, and tax attorneys that have PTINs can all represent you in front of the IRS should you require it. But a tax preparer who has a PTIN but isn’t an EA, a CPA, or a tax attorney will not be able to represent you in front of the IRS. Be sure to ask your potential tax preparer questions about what may happen after you file so you feel comfortable with the level of protection and service they can provide.