The 2021 income tax filing deadline is on April 18th, less than five weeks away. Whether you’ve tried to prepare your own taxes or weren’t happy with your last tax preparer, you might want to find a tax preparer to help you out. Taxes can be complicated, and the rules change every year. Tax rule changes over the last few years were head-spinning, even for experienced tax pros.
Once you decide to get tax help, it’s essential to find qualified tax help. Why does this matter to you? Because you, the taxpayer, are responsible for all the information on your income tax return, no matter who prepared it. Hiring a qualified tax preparer who keeps up with all of the tax rule changes is a nonnegotiable requirement.
How do you find a qualified and experienced professional to prepare and file your income tax returns? Well, you can ask friends, hit the Internet, or head to the local tax preparation office to get the names of tax professionals to interview. Plan to interview two or three recommended tax pros to feel confident that she or he is qualified and that you feel comfortable interacting with her or him.
Follow these five tips to find qualified tax help:
- Ask about professional credentials, such as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or an Enrolled Agent (EA). Credentialed return preparers are required to fulfill annual continuing education. The IRS maintains a Directory of Federal Return Preparers with their credentials and qualifications at https://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf.
- Verify that the preparer has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and enters it on your return that is electronically filed with the IRS. Tax preparers who charge a fee are required to have a PTIN and to file returns electronically or submit a valid reason for paper filing the return.
- Inquire about the tax preparer’s education and training, and how she or he keeps up with tax law changes and IRS processes. Tax pros who are not a CPA or EA should still get annual tax updates to keep up their knowledge.
- Ask about service fees and get a cost estimate in writing. Avoid tax preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund, or who want their fee paid by direct deposit from your refund. These are both unethical practices prohibited by IRS regulations.
- Make sure the tax preparer is available all year, even after tax season is over, in case you need her or him. For example, notices can come from tax agencies any time of the year. Tax projections sometimes need refreshing before estimated tax payments are due again.
Feeling confident about the tax services you get starts with selecting a qualified tax preparer who keeps up with tax law changes. Whether that person is a CPA or an EA, or not, following the five tips above are a good start to get qualified tax help. Need more details? The IRS has them for you at https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional.