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5 tips for getting it right with a tax preparer

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Q: I have used the same tax preparer for 35 years. He retired this year and no one has taken over his clients, so I don’t know where to go to have my taxes done. I have a part-time business in addition to my regular job and I need someone who will look out for my deductions and my business expenses. I know the big companies are probably my best resource but I like the idea of having the same person work on my taxes every year, someone who knows me and understands my business.

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A: I do agree with you that it may be more comfortable for you to be working with the same person each year to prepare your taxes, making sure to take advantage of every deduction possible. However, there are multiple options for finding a qualified tax preparer if you remember a few basic guidelines.

▪ 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.

▪ 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.

▪ 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 559-222-8111 to check out recommended tax preparation companies, even if they are a big chain. Remember that each individual office operates separately and could possibly have operational problems that other offices of the chain don’t have. You can also use the BBB’s free Request-A-Quote program to find an accredited preparer by going online at www.bbb.org/central-california-inland-empire/quote and following the prompts.

▪ 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, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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