W-2 forms are flying through the air like snowflakes these days as employers deliver that vital piece of tax information to employees. For many the arrival of that form signals the start of tax season when time ticks toward the April 15 deadline. Forbes magazine reports that around 150 million taxpayers will use a tax preparation service. A market that large guarantees that some who seek your tax preparation business will be less competent than others.
Obviously you have an important decision to make. It is vital that your preparer be credible, knowledgeable and accountable. Mistakes matter to the IRS and penalties for them are costly. To file your taxes with confidence, use your Better Business Bureau’s tips when choosing a tax preparation service. Remember that with the added threat of identity theft these days, it is more important than ever to file as early as possible. That way you beat ID thieves to the punch.
Checklist for choosing a tax preparer
Here are some important areas worthy of your careful examination as you select the right tax preparer:
• PTIN – Preparer tax identification number. Anyone who prepares or assists in preparation of a federal tax return must have a 2015 PTIN by law. Be sure yours has this.
• BBB history. Check out the company’s history and see if they are BBB accredited at bbb.org.
• Signed tax return. The preparer must sign your return, along with your own signature. If they do not, they are not allowed to submit the return.
• Electronic filing. Unless you opt for paper filing, the preparer must file electronically. Remember that the IRS e-file process is safe and secure.
• Large refund promises. Watch out if your refund is much larger than last year, if your work situation did not change. They may have inflated your deductions. Ask why the refund is larger.
• Fees based on a percentage of your refund. The IRS says this is not allowed. The fee should be based on such issues as complexity and number of schedules filed.
• Documentation required of you. Beware of preparers who don’t ask to see documentation, especially those who will accept your last pay stub instead of a W-2.
• Requirements that your refund be direct deposited into an account other than your own. The IRS prohibits this. Accept no excuse for doing this. You may lose your entire refund.
• Requests that you sign a blank document. Never ever do this. You sign your tax form under penalty of perjury so be sure of what it says before signing.
• Contact information for the preparer. Pop-up tax preparation services abound this time of year. How do you know you will be able to reach them if the IRS has an issue with your tax filing? Permanent contact information is a must.
Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS by visiting www.irs.gov and filing form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. You can also call 888-TAX-Form (800-829-2676).
As always, your questions and problems can be addressed if you contact your BBB at (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at www.bbbinc.org.