Tax preparation commercials are all over television, radio and billboards. Even if you've filed your own tax return in the past, the passage of the late-breaking American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 means you'll want to talk to a professional to see how tax law changes may impact your situation this year. But it's important to talk to the right person.
You want someone who understands your tax situation, including all the tax deductions and credits available to you. The IRS doesn't review tax returns for missing benefits or deductions; they won't be adding them back for you. The IRS only makes adjustments if you leave income off your return. That -- they can, and will, find.
Here are four tips to choose the right tax preparer for you:
Engage now -- The IRS will accept 2012 tax returns on January 30, so start looking for a preparer that meets your needs now while you have time. They need to be well-versed in all of the recent tax law changes and tax codes. The sooner you find the right preparer, the sooner you can start the filing process and ultimately get your refund, if you're owed one.
Check the preparer's history and qualifications -- Make sure your preparer is qualified and credible. Check their history by conducting your own research through various sources such as the Better Business Bureau and state boards of accountancy. Ask friends, family or co-workers for references. Current regulations require that all paid tax preparers have an IRS-issued Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) to prepare any federal tax returns. Preparers must also complete at least 15 hours of continuing education annually.
Never sign a blank return -- It's important to review your tax return completely and ask questions before signing it. You are ultimately responsible for what is reported on your tax return. Check for errors such as incorrect social security numbers and addresses; these common mistakes can delay processing of your return. Also, make sure the preparer signs your tax return and includes their PTIN.
Use tax preparers who e-file -- The majority of taxpayers today electronically file (e-file) their tax returns. E-filing is safer than filing a paper return, offers faster processing time, greater accuracy and confirmation the IRS has received your return. Some tax preparers offer free e-filing. Make sure yours does.
Selecting a tax preparer is a very important decision that you should be happy with. After all, for most Americans the annual income tax return is the single largest financial transaction they have each and every year. Pick someone you trust that has the skills and experience you want to help you get the biggest refund you deserve -- this year and for years to come.