With Tax Day just 6 weeks away, it is time to start preparing your tax return, if you have not already filed. If you do not feel confident preparing it for yourself, then you have the choice to turn to a professional tax return preparer to do it for you. Although many tax professionals charge for this service, it is possible to find organizations that do it for free. If you plan to outsource your tax preparation, you want to be sure to choose a person or organization that is responsible, reliable, and experienced in tax law to ensure that they handle your return correctly, since ultimately it is the taxpayer and not the preparer that has the legal responsibility for the return. The following tips can help you to screen tax professionals and find the right match for you.

Ask About Their Security Procedures

In order to complete your tax return, a tax preparer needs to work with highly sensitive personal information, including your legal name, social security number, address, income, investment details, and more. In the wrong hands, this information could be used to conduct identity theft and other fraudulent activity. Therefore, you want to work with someone who you trust not to take advantage of having access to this information. It is also important that you ask the preparer how they plan to protect the information from being stolen by third-party hackers. The IRS has implemented certain security measures to protect against identity theft, and your preparer should follow these guidelines.

Inquire About Their Experience and History

It is important that you inquire about a tax preparer’s experience and history before choosing them. The tax code is very complex and changes every year. If you have circumstances that make your tax return more complicated, such as certain investments, deductions, or credits, then you want to be sure that the preparer handles these items on a regular basis. This means that they have the most up to date information about the applicable tax laws and will handle your return accordingly. You can also look at the Better Business Bureau to check for any problems in their history. You can also verify the status of an enrolled agent’s license with the IRS, and it may be a good idea to check the person’s license through the state board of accountancy for accountants or state bar for lawyers.

Do They Have a Preparer Tax Identification Number?

All paid tax return preparers must have a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) in order to handle any returns. It is to your benefit to ask if they have one before you select them. This is just another step to ensure that you are working with a legitimate preparer.

What is the Fee, and What is Included?

Before you go too far into the process of choosing a tax professional to handle your tax return, it is important that you understand their fees and what services are included. Some places have an upfront fee or provide their services free of charge. You should be wary of anyone who offers services for a percentage of your refund, as the IRS recommends that your entire refund be deposited into your account. Most places will offer a free consultation to give them a chance to see what you need and then determine a fee schedule from there. It is beneficial to know what services you are getting from the get-go. Some places will only handle the return, while others will provide audit services. It is best to work with someone who will be available in the case of an audit or if the IRS has questions about the return. Some tax professional will also help you to organize yourself to make it easier to prepare your taxes in the future.

Do They Have Limited or Unlimited Representation Rights?

Tax professionals have a variety of skills, expertise, experience, and education. One way to easily determine whether someone has the skills that you need is their representation rights. There are two main categories: limited or unlimited. Unlimited representation rights are for those who are enrolled agents, attorneys, and certified public accounts. This means they can represent their clients for any matter with the IRS, including audits, collective action, payment problems, and/or appeals. Limited representation rights tax preparers are those who are not one of those three categories of agents. They only have the right to represent their clients before revenue agents or customer service representatives, and only if they have prepared the return. They cannot represent the client during any collective action or appeals. These tax professionals typically fall into two categories: participants in the Annual Filing Season Program and PTIN holders with no professional credentials.

You have a wide range of choices for tax professionals to help you with your tax return. When choosing between different professionals, it helps to review their history, business practices, and area of expertise to ensure they will handle your return accurately. No matter who you choose, it is essential that you never sign a blank return, always review it and ask questions, ensure that the preparers have signed it and included the PTIN, and then sign if yourself. If you need help filing a past return, then phone 877-372-2520 to speak to the tax professionals at Fidelity Tax Relief. They will help you to file your return, and they can also help with any other tax relief issues.

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