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Consumer Archive

Consumer

Find a qualified tax preparer

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NEW YORK (1/24/11)--If the thought of preparing your own taxes makes your head spin, you’re in good company. The National Taxpayer Advocate office, within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), reports that 60% of taxpayers pay someone else to prepare their returns (WalletPop.com Jan. 14). Enlisting the services of a tax preparer can be convenient, but research before deciding which one to trust with your taxes. WalletPop.com offers these suggestions for finding a reliable, qualified tax preparer:
* Go online. Do a search for tax preparers in your area. Check each one’s website for information about the preparer’s qualifications. Also look for signs that the preparer stays informed about the latest tax issues, perhaps by writing a tax blog or contributing to media stories about taxes. * Look for complaints. Check with licensing agencies or professional organizations to find out if complaints have been filed against a preparer. If a preparer has a number of complaints on record, you may want to steer clear. * Ask about compliance. The IRS requires all paid tax preparers to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Some states also require additional licensing. Ask potential tax preparers if they meet these requirements. * Consider the cost. You probably can expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a federal return. But fees can vary depending on your location and the complexity of your return. If a preparer’s fees differ greatly from others in the area, don’t be afraid to ask why. * Expect good service. Does the preparer return your phone calls, answer your questions, and advise you about which documents you should bring to your appointment? If not, look for someone you feel more comfortable working with. * Check availability. Find out when the preparer’s office is open and how you can get in touch during the off-season, in case there’s a problem with your return. * Get recommendations. Ask family or friends if they can refer you to a preparer. But don’t settle for a name alone--ask additional questions about what the preparer does or doesn’t do well.
To learn more, read “Online Tool Makes Tracking Deductions a Snap” and watch the “Getting Tax Records Organized” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.