It's tax season again. According to a Better Business Bureau (BBB) analysis, nearly one-third of complaints against tax preparation companies allege that the preparer made an error or mistake in the tax return, often requiring the consumer to pay fines or added fees to rectify the problem.
In a news release this week, the national BBB said 19 percent of complaints allege the tax preparer was simply unresponsive. Billing disputes accounted for another 19 percent. Unfortunately, and perhaps most shocking, 6.3 percent of complainants allege that the tax preparer never filed their tax return at all.
The Attorney General’s Office offers this advice to help hire a reputable tax preparer.
- Ask your friends and coworkers to recommend a preparer they know and trust and choose someone local, so that you can easily find the person later. Ask questions related to the person’s credentials and experience.
- Choose a preparer who will assist you if the IRS audits your return. Only attorneys, Certified Public Accountants and IRS enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection and appeals. Also, know how the preparer checks returns for accuracy.
- Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides or requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
- Search the Washington State Board of Accountancy’s Web site at to determine whether a CPA is licensed and call to inquire if a CPA has a history of violations. You can check out attorneys through the Washington Bar Association and enrolled agents through the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility. The Better Business Bureau is also a good resource for determining whether a tax preparer has a history of complaints.
- Ask who will prepare your return. Avoid firms where your work may be delegated down to someone with less training or an unknown worker.
- Inquire about costs. Be skeptical of preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers, or who guarantee results or base fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund.
- Once you’ve hired a preparer, be sure to review the return carefully before you sign it in ink; never sign a blank or partially completed form. The preparer must also sign the return and include an identifying number. Retain copies of all documents.
- Free tax assistance. Working families with low and moderate incomes in King County can find sites that offer free tax assistanc online at United Way of King County. For locations outside King County, visit the National Community Tax Coalition’s Web site. Seniors can turn to help from AARP Tax-Aide sites, which help low- to middle-income taxpayers with special attention to those 60 and older.