Is It Too Late to Find a Tax Preparer?

Tax filing season is here! Time to gather all your tax documents, hunker down and file your income tax returns before the deadline, April 15th. It’s a good idea to get started soon, especially if you think that you will need help from a tax preparer. Those folks (including me) are pretty darned busy this time of year. 

Piece of paper that says "TAX" with hand holding pen
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

When you are running against the tax deadline and you just can’t figure out how to file your return yourself, what can you do? Well, you can ask friends, hit the Internet or head to the local tax preparation office. But how can you feel confident that the tax preparer you find is qualified and can do what’s best for you (within the rules, that is)?

When “shopping” for a tax preparer, taxpayers should ask these three questions:

  • How Do You Keep Up with Tax Law Changes?

Tax laws are constantly changing. Some changes are major, as we saw two years ago with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It’s important to work with a tax preparer who keeps up with all those changes, so you don’t have to. A qualified tax preparer will describe attending conferences, webinars, or other methods to stay current.

  • What Experience and Credentials Do You Have?

Tax preparation is an unregulated industry where anyone can participate, so asking about years of experience, training and education is essential. Preparers with professional credentials, such as a CPA or Enrolled Agent (EA), are required to complete annual continuing education requirements and to follow ethical and professional standards. 

  • How Do You Communicate with your Clients?

Does the tax preparer meet regularly with clients? Are meetings in person? Is she or he available to you if a tax-related question or issue comes up? Make sure you feel comfortable with the tax preparer’s style, manner and process. If not, keep looking. You’ll be sharing a lot of personal information so you must be comfortable.

It’s important to have a qualified and knowledgeable tax preparer that is up to date on the tax laws and is prepared to meet your needs. That starts with feeling confident and comfortable with the answers to these three questions. If you feel good about the answers, it’s a good sign that your tax preparation needs will be met. Still need help getting started? The IRS has a website for you with tips and tools – https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional

IRS Impersonators and Other Scams

I recently collaborated with Arlington Community Federal Credit Union (ACFCU) to present a workshop at two local retirement communities. It was called called “IRS Impersonators and Other Scams: Tips to Identify and Avoid Them.” ACFCU and I recognized that retired individuals are targeted by scammers because they often have assets that attract thieves. 

IRS impersonators are in the news all the time, but they were just one example that we discussed of scammers who use technology to reach out and steal your money and confidential information. Other scams include callers impersonating the Microsoft Help Desk and Dominion Virginia Power – services that you don’t want to have a problem with.

We couldn’t possibly describe every scam. New scams are created all the time. In our workshop, we emphasized using healthy skepticism when your phone rings or when you get an email from an unknown (or even a known) sender. Tips that we shared to identify scams included:

  • Be skeptical of any contact that you did not initiate; if you want to verify, hang up and call the legitimate business, charity or tax agency.
  • If you answer and no one is there immediately, hang up.
  • Do not click on any links in unexpected emails or emails from unknown sources.
  • Look at the return email address and subject line and delete if they do not appear to be from a legitimate sender.
  • Any offer via email or phone that sounds too good to be true is likely a scam.

Email “phishing” scams are very popular because they can send huge volumes very quickly. To me, the most insidious phishing scams come from IRS imposters because hey, who isn’t afraid of the IRS? 

Protect yourself! Remember that the IRS does not send emails about your tax refund or sensitive financial information. Most IRS communication is still through the good old-fashioned USPS. If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS that contains a request for delinquent tax balances or financial information, immediately do the following:

  1. Don’t reply, open any attachments or click on any links. 
  2. Visit the IRS’ identity protection page.
  3. Forward the email as-is to the IRS at [email protected]
  4. Delete the original email.

Tax scams are a year-round business, so taxpayers always need to be on-guard for IRS imposters. Need to report an IRS imposter? See Report Phishing and Online Scams for more details.