By Tim Parker, Benzinga Staff Writer
If you’re still looking for a tax preparer, we put together a few pointers to help you in your search.
Do They Have a PTIN?
If they don’t have a preparer tax identification number, they can’t prepare your 2014 return for you.
Check Their Background
Just because they do something with money doesn’t mean they’re the best person for the job. Even those people with some pretty hefty credentials like CFP or even a CPA aren’t necessarily the right people for the job.
Keeping up with current tax law is a full-time job for the person you’re looking for to prepare your return. Otherwise, you could do it yourself.
What’s Their Tax Specialty?
So you found somebody who does taxes as a profession. That’s great, but do they have experience preparing your type of return? What if you’re a farmer? Have they prepared returns for other farmers? How about a doctor or somebody with a complicated investment portfolio? Find somebody who fits your business activities.
Do They Know Local and State Codes?
If you live in New York and the person you’re considering lives in Texas, they’re not likely to have in-depth knowledge of the state and local tax codes in your state. They’ll know where to go to look up the information, but there are plenty of qualified people who have first-hand knowledge of your other considerations outside of your federal return.
Ask Them What They’ll Need From You
This will give you insight into how much they plan to learn about you and your specific situation. If all they’re going to do is look at a W-2 form and plug in a few numbers, that’s something you can do on your own.
The reason you’re having somebody prepare your taxes for you is, in part, to assure that you’re receiving the maximum refund. Somebody who isn’t taking the time to know you isn’t going to find those not-so-obvious refunds.
What if You Get Audited?
First, make sure that the person preparing your return will sign it as a preparer. If they won’t, run away. Assuming they will, ask them what they do for you in case of an audit. Are they allowed to represent you in tax court? Will they respond to auditor questions? They should be there for you long after your return is filed.
Be Wary of the Family Member of Friend
First, do you really want somebody you know looking at all of your personal financial details? Even if that’s okay with you, mixing personal relationships with money is rarely a wise idea. What if their mistake results in a penalty? What if you’re audited?
What if they’re not as knowledgeable as they led you to believe? Go outside of your circles of family and friends and find somebody who is unbiased, committed to confidentiality, and is well qualified.