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IRS: Taxpayers should choose preparer wisely

People who plan to pay someone else to do their taxes for the 2012 tax season should do their homework before selecting a preparer, said a local spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service.

Mark Green said tax professionals, who prepare returns for pay, must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, and must be someone who is credible, knowledgeable and accountable.

“If you choose to use a paid tax preparer, it is important that you find a qualified tax professional,” Green said. “Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for everything on their return, even when it’s prepared by someone else.”

For the 2012 season, representatives of the IRS will communicate with tax preparers about their responsibilities and verify their compliance with existing returns and e-file requirements, he said.

This is the third year the agency has provided a hands-on effort to boost the precision and quality of filed tax returns, and to increase awareness of preparer duties, Green continued.

He said most tax professionals are honest, and give top-notch services to their clients. However, there may be unscrupulous tax preparers out there, just as with other professions.

Taxpayers, he said, should use the tips below to choose a professional who will provide the best services for their tax-preparation needs:

• Multiple questions

A reputable preparer will ask a client various questions to conclude whether expenses, deductions and other items are eligible, and remind them to keep careful and complete records to substantiate information on their tax return, he said. Preparers who do this actually have the best interest of the client at heart, and are avoiding penalties, interest or extra taxes that may involve future IRS contacts, he explained.

• Service fees

Clients should find out what the service fees are before their tax return is prepared, said Green. Taxpayers should avoid preparers who base their fees on a percentage of a refund amount, or who affirm they can get larger refunds than other prepares, he said.

• Preparers who sign returns

Taxpayers should use a preparer who signs tax returns, said the spokesman. The signature should include the person’s Preparer Tax Identification Number. The professional should provide a client with a copy of the return for record keeping, he said.

• Don’t sign blank forms

Avoid preparers who ask clients to sign blank tax forms, he said.

• Ask around

Taxpayers should ask people they know about their experience with their tax preparer, said Green.

• Check with reputable organizations

People should investigate if the preparer has a suspicious history with the Better Business Bureau, the Georgia Secretary of State: Board of Accountancy, or the State Bar of Georgia, he said. Figure out if the preparer is a member of a professional organization, requiring ongoing education, and with a code of ethics, he added.

• Credentials

People should determine if the preparer’s credentials satisfy their needs, said the IRS spokesman. The professionals who are an Enrolled Agent, certified public accountant or attorney can represent clients before the IRS on all matters, including audits, collections and appeals, he said. Some preparers can only represent taxpayers in audits about a return signed as a preparer, he added.

• Review

Before signing a tax return, one must look over the entire document and ask questions, Green said.

Taxpayers, he said, can report abusive tax preparers to the IRS through Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer, or by sending a letter to the Internal Revenue Service in Fresno, Calif.