A reader: I have used the same tax preparer for 15 years. She retired this year so I need to find someone new to do my taxes. I want someone I can trust. I am looking for someone who will look out for me. I really liked having the same person do my taxes each year. She knew me and understood my finances. Can you help me find someone new?
Action Line: I understand the comfort you have of having someone you know and trust do your taxes. You will find that certified public accountants (CPAs), enrolled agents and tax preparers are all able to prepare taxes. You just need to know which one is the right fit for you. These guidelines should help:
Always look for a license and check it out. Not everyone who prepares taxes is a certified tax preparer. Tax preparers and tax interviewers who accept a fee for their work must be licensed by the California Tax Education Council, http://www.ctec.org/
CPAs don’t always specialize in tax return preparation. So ask up front. Check to make sure that they are licensed. You can go to www.dca.ca.gov/cba/lookup.shtml to check out your CPA.
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Only “enrolled agents” can represent you before the IRS if there is a mistake on your tax return. Generally, tax preparers need to have three to four years of experience to qualify to become enrolled agents, unless they have years of strong accounting experience. Enrolled agents may represent taxpayers before the IRS and the State Franchise Tax Board. To become an enrolled agent, and practice before the IRS, licensed preparers must pass an examination given by the IRS and will have three years to pass all four parts of the test.
Check with family and friends for references. Don’t be embarrassed to ask if the tax preparer got them a refund or if there were any problems with their returns.
Call the BBB at 800-675-8118 or go online to www.bbb.org/ccie to check out accredited tax preparation companies. You can use the BBB’s free Request-A-Quote program to find an accredited preparer by going online at www.bbb.org/ccie, clicking on the Request-A-Quote button and following the prompts. Or ask for a list of accredited businesses and contact them on your own.
Tax season is upon us, so you should get started now so that you can have the time to find someone you like and trust. You have until April 15 to file!
Keep good records and receipts. Even the best tax preparer can only work with what you provide them. They are not mind-readers and they will not be able to determine your best deductions unless you give them accurate records. In your particular case, you need to keep two separate sets of records: one for your personal return and one for your business return. The better prepared you are, the easier it will be for your tax preparer to find your deductions and, hopefully, get you the refund you want.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.