Want to enter into a loving relationship based on faith, hope, and a shared passion for avoiding tax audits? If you’re suspicious that your current tax preparer might be cheating a bit with your tax returns, you might want to consider leaving that preparer for a new one. Your tax preparer literally knows your secrets, so you need someone loyal and dedicated and very knowledgeable about tax breaks. You also need someone full of financial savvy and integrity. Remember: your tax preparer is the primary body standing between you and Uncle Sam.
When interviewing your prospective tax preparer, follow these tips to help ensure a longlasting and mutually beneficial relationship:
- Before making a date with the tax preparer, do the Investigation Dance. Wiggle to the Google. Call up the Better Business Bureau and state licensing agencies. Get in touch with trusted acquaintances. In other words, dig into the history of the preparer. If the reports you uncover make you queasy, heed your gut instincts, and move on to the next potential tax preparer.
- When making the initial call to the tax preparer’s office, ask for verification of the taxpayer’s qualifications, including the IRS-issued Preparer Tax Identification Number (“PTIN”). The PTIN signifies that the preparer has met the IRS’s requirements, including those stringent ones Uncle Sam instituted just last year. Follow up with the IRS to crosscheck the PTIN.
- Also find out about the tax preparer’s experience and training during that initial call.
- Check the tax preparer’s accessibility. Some tax preparers’ offices are open only during tax season, from January 31 (the deadline for employers to send out W-2s) to April 15 (the deadline for filing individual income tax returns) each year. While the fees of the fly-by-night outfits may be lower than those of well-established accounting firms, what you save in professional costs could potentially be gobbled up in audits gone wrong.
- Ask about the tax preparer’s fees. Avoid the preparer who (1) works on commission, (2) promises to save you bundles without knowing the facts, (3) wants you to permit your refund to be deposited into the tax preparer’s account, (4) requests that you sign blank returns, or (5) simply does not seem professional or interested in your finances. Legitimate tax preparers typically inquire about your expenses, income, and so forth. They may request copies of receipts and other records. If the tax preparer appears to be lackadaisical concerning your return, the tax preparer will most likely produce an inexpert return, leaving you open to risk of an audit.
- Ask if the tax preparer files returns electronically. Tax preparers who complete more than 10 returns annually must file electronically. You need someone with experience and a proven client track record.
Once you’ve narrowed the field of tax preparers down to The One, make sure that the tax preparer signs and provides the PTIN on the return. Before paying the fees, get a copy of your return.
And if you do discover down the road that the tax preparer did you seriously wrong despite all your careful strategies, immediately seek a divorce by reporting the tax preparer to the IRS.