Don't get lost in the wild frontier of tax preparation!
Updated: Mar 6, 2018
When it comes to tax preparation, it’s not quite the wild west, but there is enough unlawful activity to keep James West, Matt Dillon, and even the Lone Ranger busy. In our last blog, we discussed why do-it-yourself software might not be the best way to file a tax return. If you have decided to use a paid preparer, there are some things you need to know to make sure you are not falling victim to an unscrupulous person. Remember, taxpayers are responsible for their return even if they hire someone to prepare it for them, so it’s important to choose your tax preparer carefully.
Unfortunately, tax preparation is essentially unregulated. While the IRS does require anyone who gets compensated for preparing tax returns to register annually for a Preparer Tax Identification Number, this process is open to almost everyone. Anyone preparing more than ten returns must register to e-file, a process that does involve background checks but which has no education requirements. However, the IRS does offer some guidelines for choosing a tax preparer.
First on their list is checking the preparer’s credentials. Although there are no education or licensing requirements to become a tax preparer, there are professional credentials available for those who choose to pursue them. The IRS licenses Enrolled Agents, who must pass an exam demonstrating proficiency in federal tax planning, individual and business tax return preparation, and taxpayer representation, as well as completing required continuing education. Enrolled Agents have unlimited practice rights, meaning they can represent any taxpayer regarding any tax matter before the IRS. Down South partner Karen Spruill has maintained Enrolled Agent status since 2013.
The IRS also offers its Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP), a voluntary program that requires participants to complete continuing education courses and pass an exam on current tax regulations each year. AFSP participants are allowed to represent their clients (whose returns they prepared) in many IRS matters. Both Karen and Deborah maintain the AFSP credential. For more on IRS recognized credentials, see this link. The IRS publishes a directory where anyone may check their tax preparer’s credentials.
We e-file all eligible returns and maintain rigorous protocols for assuring the security of client data. We are happy to discuss each taxpayer’s unique situation and provide a quote for our fees prior to beginning any work. We offer several options for receiving any refund due, and we can have our fees deducted from the refund. Of course, all services are offered in strict compliance with IRS and other government rules. Finally, we go over the tax return with our clients to make sure they understand what all the numbers mean. And if they ever have a question, we are here year-round to answer them.
Filing federal and state income tax returns is an important and often complex task. Don’t try to go it alone, but do make sure anyone you trust with your return is a professional who stays current with changing tax law, adheres to strict ethical standards for tax preparers, and makes client service a priority. We feel this describes us; check us out and see if you agree!