Hey guys! We are almost 1 month into the 2020 tax season already and many returns have been filed but I know there are many more to go. If you (or someone you know) hasn't filed their taxes yet, I'm going to tell you how to find the right person to help you get it done.
The first question is: Do you even need a professional? If you have a basic understanding of income and how you pay taxes on that income, you could probably file your taxes yourself. There's tons of software out there that you can use and file your return for F-R-E-E. Personally, I recommend TaxAct (and no, they aren't paying me to say this) but it is user friendly and walks you through everything step-by-step. However, if your tax situation is a bit more complex or you just don't have the time, patience or desire to figure it out, it's perfectly fine to seek professional help. After all, that's what I'm here for!
Now that you've decided you need help, How do you know who to go to? The options can be overwhelming. Most people are familiar with the big three: the H&R Blocks, Jackson Hewitts and Liberty Taxes (thanks to Sir/Lady Liberty flagging you down or dancing on the corner like a maniac). #noshade I used to work there and I loved it! They taught me everything I know about running a tax office...what do to and what NOT to do. #isaidwhatisaid. The challenges of going to these companies are: they typically hire seasonal help so every year you walk in, you're usually sitting down with someone new and they're franchises, which means high franchise fees they have to pay which equates to high tax prep fees to the taxpayer (that would be YOU).
The second option are the many #smallbusinesses around town (or online). With so many to choose from, it's hard to know which one is JUST RIGHT for you. And while most tax return preparers are professional, honest and provide excellent service to their clients, we KNOW that dishonest and unscrupulous tax return preparers do exist. I have seen way too many posts about people getting jipped and ripped off by people that have either filed their return without their authorization or run off with their refunds and it literally breaks my heart and makes me shake my head. Sidebar: Did you know that even when someone prepares a return FOR you, you as the taxpayer are legally responsible for all the information included on the return. Here are 5 tips to help you avoid those people and pick a professional that has your best interest at heart.
Select an ethical preparer. You are sharing super sensitive information about yourself, your family and your finances. Three things people don't play about. You don't want that information landing in the wrong hands. Make sure you've done your research or know other clients personally that have had a positive experience with the professional.
Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of YOUR refund. Many times, they will incorrectly or falsely report items on your return to increase your refund and increase their fee.
Be sure to use a preparer with a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) and they are willing to sign the return. The PTIN is an identifier that paid tax preparers include on tax returns they file. If someone isn't willing to include their PTIN on your tax return, that's a RED FLAG. Note: Any tax professional with an IRS PTIN is authorized to prepare federal tax returns for pay.
Make sure the preparer is available after the filing due date. This may be helpful if questions come up about the tax return or if you're randomly selected for an audit. Some places are only open during tax season and are on 'vacation' the rest of the year or they pack up and move offices and you can't find them. Ask about their off peak office hours.
Ask the preparer for a copy of your tax return. BY LAW tax return preparers must give the taxpayer a copy of the return. You would think this one is a given, but I've had many people come to me asking if I can file or amend their taxes that other people messed up and they never received a copy of what was submitted. Another RED FLAG that something fishy could be going on.
This is not an all inclusive list but just a few things to watch out for. I think it goes without saying that even before all of this, you should also make sure the person is knowledgeable on the ever-changing tax laws and can advise you year over year on how to improve your tax situation, but as the elders tell me, "common sense ain't common." Also, the IRS maintains a directory of tax preparers with various credentials that you can access here. Still not foolproof but if a preparer is willing to get registered with the IRS, take continuing education classes, apply for licenses or certifications, they are held to a higher standard and there is a decreased chance that they are not out in here in the streets intentionally trying to deceive people.
Have you had a good or bad experience you want to share? I would love to hear about it. Drop a comment below or just tell me what you think about the article. If you have specific questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. With so many choices and so MUCH on the line, choosing a tax preparer can be scary and tricky. Let me take the guesswork out of it for you and just roll with me. I'll take good care of you. *wink*
Until Next Time,