By Ken Berry
Now that we've entered the 2012 tax filing season, the IRS has posted "Ten Tips to Help You Choose a Tax Preparer" on its website (IRS Tax Tip 2013-07, February 5, 2013). This new online guidance gives taxpayers insights into choosing a qualified professional to prepare their returns.
Our advice: Take the IRS message to heart. Be prepared to show clients that you measure up to the strictest standards. Here's what the IRS is telling taxpayers to do . . . and what you can do in response.
1. Check the preparer's qualifications. This isn't just about having a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). In addition, you can represent your affiliations with professional organizations and other credentials.
2. Check on the preparer's history. Clients may inquire about a questionable history. Expect to defend any disciplinary actions and lapses in licensing. Be honest and forthright.
3. Ask about service fees. The IRS discourages taxpayers from using preparers who base fees on a percentage of the refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers can. Make sure clients understand your firm's fee structure and they're comfortable with it.
4. Ask to e-file your return. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than ten returns for clients is required to file the returns electronically, unless a particular client opts to file a paper return. This is a no-brainer.
5. Make sure the preparer is accessible. Let clients know they can contact you after you've filed their return, even it's past the April 15 due date. This may be helpful to clients in the event questions arise about the return.
6. Provide records and receipts. Reputable preparers will request to see a client's records and receipts. Ask the client questions to determine income and qualifications for deductions, credits, and other items.
7. Never sign a blank return. Don't ever ask clients to do this. It's strictly against the rules.
8. Review the entire return before signing. Before your client signs the return, have him or her review it thoroughly. Make sure the client understands everything on the return and accepts its complete accuracy.
9. Make sure the preparer signs and includes his or her PTIN. As a paid preparer, you must sign the return and include your PTIN. Also, you must give the client a copy of the return.
10. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. Avoid any problems by comporting yourself in a professional and ethical manner at all times. Clients may report abuses or suspicions of tax fraud on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer, or Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit.
Most of this is just common sense, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded of your responsibilities and potential liabilities. Don't shy away from the IRS guidelines; embrace them.