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Tips from the BBB on how to select a tax preparer

It is that time of year again when Alameda residents and others around the country begin to think about preparing and filing income tax returns. With tax laws constantly in flux these days it can be a good idea for many who do not normally enlist the services of a professional tax preparer to consider doing so this year. As previously reported, the fiscal cliff has resulted in a number of changes to tax law that could affect many.

The IRS claims that 80 percent of Americans use a tax preparer or tax software to file their taxes, for that reason alone it is important to choose wisely. All paid tax return preparers are now required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. The IRS advises only using tax specialists that sign the returns and enter their PTINS on the forms. Here are some additional tips provided by the Better Business Bureau on how to select a reputable tax professional.

  • Ask for referrals from friends, family members even colleagues and check the BBB website for business reviews.
  • Check a preparer's credentials. Is he or she a certified public accountant, tax lawyer or an enrolled agent? Check to see if he or she is a member of a professional organization with a strict code of ethics.
  • Be leery of premature promises as a preparer cannot make promises of a refund amount until he or she thoroughly reviews your particular circumstances.
  • Is your chosen preparer or firm accessible? Make sure your preparer will be accessible long after the tax season should you have questions or need access to additional paperwork or copies of returns.
  • Ask if your taxes will be filed electronically. By law if a tax professional prepares more than ten clients' returns he or she must file electronically unless a client requests a paper return.
  • Know the costs of the service up front. Ask whether the fee covers changes to your return and whether the fee will change if the preparer finds it more complicated than originally thought. Also ask whether the preparer will represent you should you be faced with an IRS audit.

Never sign a blank return, always review the return before signing it. And make sure your preparer also signs the return and provides you with copies. Since you are legally responsible for your returns even when prepared by someone else it is important to select your tax professional very carefully.

Source: The Bakersfield Californian, "Action Line: Tips for selecting a tax preparer," Joey Fernandez, Jan. 5, 2013

Our Alameda County, California, law firm handles a wide range of tax matters from estate tax planning and tax return preparations to audits and all tax litigation matters.

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