How to Choose a Tax Return Preparer

Do you feel overwhelmed around tax time when trying to select a qualified and suitable tax return preparer? The Internal Revenue Service has published the following Tax Topic 254 as a guide for taxpayers when selecting a tax return preparer.

If you choose to have someone prepare your tax return, choose that preparer wisely. A paid tax return preparer is primarily responsible for the overall substantive accuracy of your return and, by law, this person is required to sign the return and include their preparer tax identification number (PTIN) on it. Although the tax return preparer always signs the return, you are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of every item reported on your return. Anyone paid to prepare tax returns for others should have a thorough understanding of tax matters and is required to have a PTIN. You may want to ask friends, co-workers or your employer for help in selecting a competent tax return preparer.

When you choose a tax return preparer, choose one who is easy to contact in case the IRS examines your return and has questions regarding how your return was prepared. You can designate your paid tax return preparer or another third party to speak to the IRS concerning the preparation of your return, payment/refund issues, and mathematical errors. The third party authorization checkbox on IRS tax forms gives the designated party the authority to receive and inspect returns and return information for one year from the original due date of your return (without regard to extensions).

See Topic 312 for information on how to extend the authority to receive and inspect returns and return information to a third party using Form 8821 (PDF), Tax Information Authorization.

Steps You Should Take to Find a Tax Return Preparer

Most tax return preparers are professional, honest, and they provide excellent service to their clients. However, dishonest and unscrupulous tax return preparers who file false income tax returns do exist, unfortunately. You should always check your return for errors to avoid potential financial and legal problems.

The following points will assist you when selecting a tax return preparer:

  • Be wary of tax return preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than others can.
  • Avoid tax return preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or who offer to deposit all or part of your refund into their financial accounts.
  • Ensure you use a preparer with a preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Paid tax return preparers must have a preparer tax identification number to prepare all or substantially all of a tax return.
  • Use a reputable tax professional who furnishes their PTIN, signs the tax return, and provides you a copy of the return (as required).
  • Consider whether the individual or firm will be around for months or years after filing the return to answer questions about the preparation of the tax return.
  • Check the person’s credentials. Only attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters, including audits, collections, and appeals. Other tax return preparers may only represent taxpayers for audits of returns they actually prepared.

Additional Resources

To help you find a tax professional with credentials and select qualifications to prepare your tax return, refer to the following sources of additional information.