Be mindful of who is filing your taxes

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It’s that time of year again when Uncle Sam wants you to pay up for an assortment of things he likes to collect on from your earned income to investment rewards, etc. etc. And given that we live in an America today where news reports include fraudulent money scams nearly every day of the week, this blog will provide tips from the IRS about things to consider if you—like 60 percent of filers—have your tax returns prepared by someone other than yourself.

Before going there, it’s really important to remember that you, Sir or Madame, are the one responsible for whatever is on the tax form submitted to the IRS. Not the preparer. Not the online program. Not your cousin the accountant. Nope, it’s you who carries all of the responsibility regarding the data on the forms submitted to our Uncle.

Here’s how the IRS spells it out: “Remember: Taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task.”

With that in mind, because the IRS is keenly aware of tax return preparer fraud, the agency has written a good piece titled the “IRS Annual “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams to Avoid During the 2016 Filing Season” that’s worth reading.

Below is most of what was included in the “Dirty Dozen” list designed to help taxpayers when selecting a tax preparer:

  • Ask if the preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid tax return preparers are required to register with the IRS, have a PTIN and include it on your filed tax return.
  • Inquire whether the tax return preparer has a professional credential (enrolled agent, certified public accountant, or attorney), belongs to a professional organization or attends continuing education classes. A number of tax law changes, including the Affordable Care Act provisions, can be complex. A competent tax professional needs to be up-to-date in these matters. Tax return preparers aren’t required to have a professional credential, but make sure you understand the qualifications of the preparer you select. IRS.gov has more information regarding the national tax professional organizations.
  • Check the preparer’s qualifications.  Use the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.
  • Check the preparer’s history.  Ask the Better Business Bureau about the preparer. Check for disciplinary actions and the license status for credentialed preparers. For CPAs, check with the State Board of Accountancy. For attorneys, check with the State Bar Association. For Enrolled Agents, go to IRS.gov and search for “verify enrolled agent status” or check the Directory.
  • Ask about service fees.  Preparers are not allowed to base fees on a percentage of their client’s refund. Also avoid those who boast bigger refunds than their competition. Make sure that your refund goes directly to you – not into your preparer’s bank account.
  • Ask to e-file your return.  Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Paid preparers who do taxes for more than 10 clients generally must offer electronic filing. The IRS has processed more than 1.5 billion e-filed tax returns. It’s the safest and most accurate way to file a return.
  • Provide records and receipts. Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not rely on a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
  • Make sure the preparer is available.  In the event questions come up about your tax return, you may need to contact your preparer after the return is filed. Avoid fly-by-night preparers.
  • Understand who can represent you. Attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents can represent any client before the IRS in any situation. Non-credentialed tax return preparers can represent clients before the IRS in only limited situations, depending upon when the tax return was prepared and signed.  For all returns prepared and signed after Dec. 31, 2015, a non-credentialed tax return preparer can represent clients before the IRS in limited situations only if the preparer is a participant in the IRS Annual Filing Season Program
  • Never sign a blank return.  Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign an incomplete or blank tax form.
  • Review your return before signing.  Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
  • Report tax preparer misconduct to the IRS. You can report improper activities by tax return preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms on IRS.gov.

To find other tips about choosing a preparer, better understand the differences in credentials and qualifications, research the IRS preparer directory, and learn how to submit a complaint regarding a tax return preparer, visit www.irs.gov/chooseataxpro

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