In an age where information can quickly be stolen, people have become more careful about how they handle their personal data and who they trust with it. And yet, about 80% of people who use a tax preparer never verify the person’s credentials and qualifications. Tax preparers handle incredibly sensitive information for you, including your financial records and your Social Security Number, so shouldn’t you verify that the person is a reliable professional before handing your data over to them?
If you’re using a third party to file your tax return in Provo, you should follow these 6 steps to ensure they’re someone who can be trusted with your information.
Verify Their PTIN
If the person you’re using is paid to prepare tax returns, then the IRS requires them to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). This should be the first piece of information you ask any potential tax preparer to provide for you, and you should check it against the IRS’s online directory of preparers. However, if you’re using a volunteer preparer (certain organizations do offer free tax prep for specific individuals), then the person is not required to have a PTIN. Only those paid to prepare returns must have this identification number.
Ask What Other Credentials They Have
Obtaining a PTIN isn’t very difficult, so you shouldn’t be content with only verifying that piece of information. Instead, you should ask them what other credentials they have, and only work with them if they possess an IRS-recognized credential, such as:
- Certified public accountant (CPA)
- Licensed attorney
- Completion of the IRS’s Annual Filing Season program
- Accredited Business Accountant/Advisor
- Accredited Tax Preparer
Again, don’t simply take the person’s word on what qualifications they have. You can use the IRS directory to search for preparers in your area that have a PTIN and an IRS-recognized credential. Use this system to verify which credentials the person claims to have, or to find a preparer with desired qualifications in your area.
Ask about Their Fee Structure
Less-than-reliable preparers will often try to lure clients in with promises of flat-rate fees or larger returns. Both of these things are major indicators that the preparer is not a professional in the field. Legitimate tax preparers will usually charge by the hour, not by the size of the return. And no professional preparer can ever make a promise regarding the size of your return. If you encounter a preparer doing either of these things, take your business elsewhere.
Ensure They Can e-File Your Return
The IRS requires any professional tax preparer who does more than 10 client returns in a year to file the returns through their electronic filing system. If the tax preparer you’re using doesn’t offer you the option to e-file this likely means they’re not doing as much tax prep as you might have thought. And wouldn’t you prefer to entrust your return to a full-time professional?
Ask If They’ll Sign the Return
If you ask your preparer if they’re willing to sign your return, the answer should always be yes. Any federal tax preparer with a PTIN is required by the IRS to sign every return they complete, and provide their PTIN on the document. Never sign a return your preparer won’t sign, and be sure not to put your signature on a blank return either. This would enable the person to put any information on the return, including their own bank account information, which would allow them to steal your refund.
Make Sure They’ll Support You
A good tax preparer won’t simply submit your return and wave goodbye. They’ll provide representation in front of the IRS, if there are any issues regarding audits, payments, or appeals. This representation can only be provided by a preparer who has both a PTIN and another IRS-recognized credential; preparers who have completed the Annual Filing Season program (including Accredited Business Accountants/Advisors and Accredited Tax Preparers) can only represent you in certain circumstances, so it’s best to work with a CPA or licensed attorney if you want full professional representation in these matters.
Additionally, your tax preparer should be there to meet your other tax-related needs. If you have questions regarding your return, need to file an amendment, or have other questions, they should be willing to take your call, respond to your email, or set up an appointment to talk with you, regardless of how long ago your return was filed.
With Biesinger & Kofford CPAs, you can rest assured that each of our tax preparers meet all of the requirements above, as well as having years of experience and knowledge in many tax-related matters. If you need to file a tax return in Provo, give us a call to speak to one of our tax preparers, and give yourself peace of mind knowing that your tax return is in expert hands.