What to consider when hiring a tax preparer


Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 11:26 p.m.

NEW YORK — With tax season looming, it's certainly tempting to hire someone to prepare your tax return. And in many cases, hiring an expert can save you a lot of time and money.

But remember, you're still legally responsible for your own tax return even if someone else prepares it. Thus, you want to make sure you hire someone capable and qualified. The IRS offers the following guidelines for choosing a tax professional:

· Be skeptical of preparers who claim they can get you a larger refund than others. If your return is prepared correctly, every preparer should get very similar numbers.

· If a preparer guarantees results or bases fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund, beware. According to the IRS, "A practitioner may not charge a contingent fee (percentage of your refund) for preparing an original tax return."

· Choose a preparer you will have easy access to. Be sure to check who will actually be preparing the return — if a firm delegates your work to someone with less training or to an unknown worker, take your business somewhere else. Check if the preparer will send your return to a foreign country for preparation. If so, that's a red flag — foreign countries don't have the same security and privacy laws as the U.S., so you won't have the same recourse if your information is compromised.

· Check the preparer's history with the Better Business Bureau, the state's board of accountancy for CPAs or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility for enrolled agents. Make sure the preparer's credentials meet your needs.

Once you've hired a preparer, there are more steps to take.

Your preparer must sign the return and complete the preparer portions of the form and include his or her identifying number. He or she should also give you a copy of the return.

Be sure to review your return and understand your entries before it is sent in, and never sign a blank return or sign in pencil.

For more information, visit www.irs.gov.

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