Questions To Help You Find A Quality Tax Preparer

Posted on: 11 March 2015

You do not want just anyone preparing your taxes. You can someone who knows that they are doing to prepare your taxes. If your tax preparation specialist messes up on your taxes, you could lose out on refund money that you are owed, you may end up overpaying or underpaying, and you could get audited. Here are a few questions to pose to any individual tax preparer whom you are interested in hiring. Their answers to these questions will help you weed out those who don't have the experience you need. 

What kind of experience and training do you have?

Beyond requiring all tax preparers to sign returns and have a PTIN, the IRS does not have any other formal regulations or requirements for individuals who prepare tax returns.

Individuals with backgrounds as attorneys and certified public accountants generally have the experience, training and knowledge to accurately prepare your taxes. 

Individuals who have enrolled agent credentials also have the training needed to prepare your taxes. The IRS awards this credential to individuals who have passed a rigorous three-part comprehensive tax exam. Additionally, individuals have to take at least 72 hours of continued education in the tax field every three years.

Shy away from tax preparers who do not have any formal education or training in tax preparation. 

What is your preparer tax identification number (PTIN)?

The IRS requires professional federal tax preparers to have a PTIN. The IRS provides them with this number. Anyone who is selling their services as a federal tax preparer is required to have this number. If they don't have a PTIN, walk away. 

Do we both need to sign my return?

This is a great fishing question to ask your tax preparer. An experienced tax preparer will know that they are legally obligated to not only sign your federal tax return, but they also have to write down their PTIN as well. 

If they tell you they do not have to sign your return and that only you need to sign it, this is a huge red flag. It shows you that they are not knowledgeable about tax laws. This requirement is in place as a safeguard against poor tax preparers. It protects you and the general public. 

What is your fee based on?

You should know exactly how much you are going to have to pay your tax preparer before they get started. Try to find a tax preparer who has set costs for specific services.

Do not hire a tax preparer that bases their fees on your expected refund. Some tax preparers will try to take a cut of your refund. This assumes, first of all, that you will have a refund. These type of tax preparers may be motivated to cut corners in order to give you a refund or in order to give you a bigger refund that you are not actually entitled to. This could end up hurting you down the line. 

These questions are just a guideline to help you find an experienced and legitimate tax preparer. Use these questions and their answers to guide your decision. Don't forget to trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right about their business set up or experience, you're probably on to something. Wait to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with to prepare your taxes.