Income Tax Preparation: How to Choose Reputable Tax Preparers and Avoid Scams
By Barb Miller
It’s tax preparation time of year! And for those Americans who expect a refund, the tax season is heating up. But before you hurry out to get your taxes done do your homework to make sure your tax “professional” is not out to scam you. Both the IRS and Better Business Bureau warn taxpayers against using preparers who claim they can get you a bigger refund than anyone else. Fraudulent preparers may boost refunds by manipulating income to qualify for tax credits, or by claiming inflated expenses, false deductions, or exemptions. Under these circumstances a bigger refund is never good!
Even if you fall victim to a fraudulent tax preparer it is you who is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of all the information contained in your tax returns. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough! When someone else prepares your returns, if the returns are wrong, you will be liable for back taxes, interest, and perhaps monetary penalties. Even worse, some folks may be facing jail time for filing false tax returns.
Although most tax preparers are honest and do excellent work, it is crucial that you carefully select with whom you entrust your tax work. It’s worth repeating that if your preparer messes up, whether by mistake or intentionally to scam you and the government, you will be held accountable.
How to Choose a Tax Preparer
Beware of anyone who promises they can get you a bigger refund than other preparers.
Stay away from a preparer who bases the fee on a percentage of your refund.
Use a reputable preparer who signs your return (required by law), and provides its IRS-issued tax identification number (also required by law).
Be sure to get copies of your returns.
Look over your returns before signing them, and ask about any entries you do not understand.
NEVER sign a blank tax return. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for the information on your tax forms.
Think about whether your tax preparer will be around to answer questions about your returns if you are audited. Keep in mind that an audit can happen years after filing.
Find out about the tax preparer’s experience and credentials.
Asks friends and family for referrals to trustworthy tax preparers. Or, ask if anyone has experience with the preparer you are thinking about, and if they were satisfied with the service.
Free Tax Preparation Resources
Keep in mind that you may qualify for free preparation of your tax returns. Even moderate income levels may be eligible so don’t assume you make too much money for this service. Check it out to be sure.
If you want more information about free tax clinics, call the IRS at 1-800-906-9887, or visit the IRS website and search for “VITA”. Or, here is the VITA Locator Tool link.
Getting your tax returns prepared correctly is important. Don’t let your enthusiasm for a quick refund lead to choosing someone who lures you in with empty promises…or, worse yet, steals from you by charging excessive fees or gets you in trouble by cheating on your tax returns. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is!
Barb Miller is a Certified Financial Counselor and Bankruptcy Specialist with LSS Financial Counseling.