Author Trudy Howard
This one question will give you insight into whether or not your preparer has passed the IRS & BANK CRIMINAL & CREDIT BACKGROUND CHECKS! If your tax return preparer only accepts cash (or cash equivalents such as PayPal, cash app, or even credit/debit cards), 9 times out of 10 you’re dealing with an unauthorized E-file provider. In order to offer clients, refund advances, and the ability to have their tax preparation fees deducted from their tax refund, a tax preparer (or the agency they work for) has to be approved by the IRS as an ERO (electronic return originator) that is authorized to send the IRS E-files. ERO providers have to pass background checks, credit checks, and suitability checks in order to become an authorized E-file provider.
2.) Do you screen your tax return preparers and assistants to see if they’ve ever been arrested for (or charged with) bank fraud, theft, identity theft, or any other criminal charges?
This is HUGE. During tax season I always see an increase in social media post referencing bank accounts that have been compromised, and identity theft issues. While your preparer may not be committing fraudulent acts, your preparer may have unknowingly hired a data entry assistant that is using/selling your information. Ask questions about the assistant, and find out if they’ve been background checked.
3.) Will my preparer sign my return, and do all of the preparers have a paid tax identification number?
I’ve seen HUNDREDS of tax returns in which consumers paid someone to prepare their returns, only to have the “tax return preparer” use Turbo Tax or some other software, and submit the tax return as a SELF PREPARED return without the return preparers signature. THIS IS A HUGE RED FLAG! Whenever you pay someone to prepare your tax return, that preparer needs to sign your return. Also, although YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for what is on your tax return, some penalties can be waived if you can prove that you relied on the advice of a tax professional. **
4.) What safety measures do you have in place to protect my data (locked file cabinets, encrypted file sharing, etc.)?
This is self-explanatory.
5.) What are the minimum education and experience requirements for your preparers?
You don’t necessarily need a CPA, but you also don’t want someone that dropped out of the 8th grade.
6.) Do you have a special concentration (small business, truck drivers, realtors, salespeople etc.)?
Have you ever heard the term jack of all trades, master of none? Make sure that you get a tax preparer familiar with your industry as tax law, and deductions can vary based on profession. For example, a salesperson can’t take per diem, but an owner operator truck driver can.
7.) Do your preparers have any accounting experience?
There are 2 words that come to mind when thinking of why you want your tax preparer to have accounting knowledge/experience. Those two words are: depreciation, and basis.
8.) How many continuing education hours are your tax preparers required to meet? How often must they complete these continuing education requirements (yearly, every 3 years, etc.)?
Tax law changes often, so you want an agent that stays abreast of the new Federal, State, and county tax law changes.
9.) Are you and your agents listed on the IRS website under the
Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications?
The IRS has an online directory that will let you know if the person you are dealing with is credentialed; use it.
10.) If I get audited can you represent me before the IRS?
Make sure that your preparer can represent you in front of IRS employees, and the tax payor advocate service.
11.) Are you open year round? What if I need help after April 15th?
You want to work with a tax firm that is open year round, and not just during tax season. Many “fly by night” operations come into town for tax season, submit fraudulent tax returns, and then disappear into the night just as quickly as they appeared.
12.) Do you offer tax planning services?
Tax preparation is the method of recording facts & reporting the facts to the IRS in proper format. Tax planning is the act of analyzing data & creating a plan of action to reduce tax liability. Tax planning requires that your tax preparer not only knows tax law, but also understands how to apply tax law.