Tips to Find the Best Tax Preparer Near You
Ask for a Preparer Tax Identification Number
The IRS requires anyone who prepares or assists in preparing
federal tax returns for compensation to have a PTIN. Note the phrase “for
compensation” — volunteer preparers don’t need PTINs. Make sure your income tax
preparer puts his or her PTIN number on your return — the IRS requires that,
Require a CPA, law license or Enrolled Agent designation
A PTIN is relatively easy to get, so go a step further and
get a credentialed preparer — someone who’s also a certified public accountant,
licensed attorney, enrolled agent or who has completed the IRS’ Annual Filing
Season program. The Accredited Business Accountant/Advisor and Accredited Tax
Preparer are examples of programs that help preparers fulfill the Annual Filing
Season Program requirement. These credentials all require varying amounts of
study, exams and ongoing education.
Look for friends in high places
Membership in a professional organization such as the
National Association of Tax Professionals, the National Association of Enrolled
Agents, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or the American
Academy of Attorney CPAs is always a good thing to have, as most have codes of
ethics, professional conduct requirements and various certification programs.
Reconsider those who don’t e-file
The IRS requires any paid preparer who does more than 10
returns for clients to file electronically via the IRS’ e-file system. If your
tax preparer doesn’t offer e-file, it may be a sign the person isn’t doing as
much tax prep as you thought.
Tips to Find a Good Tax Preparer
Check the Tax Preparer’s Credentials
Anyone with a preparer tax identification number can handle
and file your taxes, but it’s best to find someone who also can handle audits,
a CPA and tax manager at Only a certified public accountant or an enrolled
agent—another type of tax professional—can represent you before in those
situations, she notes.
Look for a Well-Established Pro
Ideally, it’s a good idea to find a preparer who has had at
least seven to 10 years of experience, The reason: The more time a preparer has
been working on tax returns, the more likely he is to have dealt with a tax
situation similar to yours.
Find a Preparer With Clients Like You
Ideally, you want a preparer with clients who are similar to
you. That way, you’re more likely to get the best service for your particular
Ask for a Price Quote
Often, a tax preparer will say that he can’t tell you what
he’ll charge until he determines which forms you’ll need. But you can try to
pin down an answer by presenting the forms you completed last year or by asking
for a list of fees for various types of tax help.
How to Find the Best Tax Preparer for You
Types of Tax Return Pros
You can have anyone—your uncle, your neighbor, or your best
friend—prepare your tax return. But if you’re paying for this service, the
person must be registered with the IRS and have a current preparer tax
identification number (PTIN), which is an IRS number issued annually to
- Attorneys: These professionals are licensed by
states or state bar associations to practice law and are subject to continuing
education requirements and a code of ethics.
- CPAs: Certified public accountants are
professionals who have passed the Uniform CPA Examination and been licensed by
state boards of accountancy; they also have continuing education requirements.
- Enrolled agents: These are individuals who have
passed a three-part Special Enrollment Examination demonstrating competency in
federal taxation and been licensed by the IRS. They, too, have continuing
- Annual filing season program participants: These
individuals are not attorneys, CPAs, or enrolled agents but have completed an
IRS program and obtained continuing education.
- Any other preparer with a PTIN: These are
individuals who believe they have sufficient knowledge to prepare returns and
have paid the fee to obtain a PTIN. They are not subject to any oversight by a
state, a professional board, or the IRS.
How to Choose a Tax Preparer
- Payment. Try to get a clear understanding of the
cost early in the process. You can minimize your costs by making sure your tax
prep documents are well-organized and your accounting system is up-to-date.
- Communication. Ask what is the best way to get
in touch with the person in case you have a question or concern. Whether it’s
text, email or phone, how soon can you expect to hear back?
- Personal touch. Sometimes, you may be dealing
with multiple people from the tax preparer’s office. It’s important to meet and
talk with the person or people who will actually be handling your account.
- Follow-up. Find out if your tax preparer will
suggest ways for you to save on taxes next year or if he or she will contact
you later if there are any new tax changes that could affect your business.
- E-file. Make sure your preparer offers the IRS
e-file option. Paid preparers who do taxes for more than 10 clients generally
must file electronically.
Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer
Verify the Preparer’s Credentials
There are a lot of people out there claiming to be a
“tax professional.” However, just because someone hangs out a shingle
and advertises tax prep services, it doesn’t mean they actually have the skill,
education, and expertise to handle your return.
Check the Preparer’s Professional Record
You have to be able to trust your tax preparer. Afterall, he
or she will know all about your finances and even have your Social Security
number. And even if a preparer is credentialed, that doesn’t guarantee that he
or she has a good professional reputation.
Ask About Fees
As with any other service or product you buy, make sure you
have a good idea of the costs ahead of time. Prices for tax return preparation
can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, including the complexity of
your return, where you live, and the preparer’s experience. That’s why it’s
important to get a quote before settling on a preparer.
Watch for Problems After Selecting a Preparer
Your due diligence doesn’t end after you pick a preparer.
Watch out for warnings signs that something isn’t quite right. If one of these
red flags pop up, you should seriously consider switching to another preparer