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Tips for hiring a trustworthy tax preparer

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Mon, Feb 18th 2019 12:30 pm

Checklist can help you hire a qualified and honest tax professional

Guest Editorial by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has provided a checklist to help taxpayers choose a qualified, honest and timely tax professional.

While the overwhelming majority of paid preparers are honest and competent, some unethical preparers will use their access to sensitive taxpayer information to prey on unsuspecting New Yorkers to line their own pockets.

“The Tax Department offers a variety of free filing options, including tax assistance locations statewide, to help you prepare and e-file your tax return without the added cost of hiring a professional,” said New York State Department of Taxation and Finance Acting Commissioner Nonie Manion. “If you do decide to hire a tax preparer, please use this checklist to help protect your confidential information and keep any refund due from falling into the wrong hands.”

Shop Around

Friends, family, neighbors and coworkers may be able to refer one to an ethical and competent tax preparer.

Meet with all the tax professionals one is considering hiring. It’s important to know if they’ve worked with others in similar tax situations, how long they’ve been preparing returns, and how one will communicate moving forward.

One can also read reviews from previous clients, if available. This will help one get a sense of the quality of the preparer’s work, their timeliness, and customer service.

Check Credentials

New York state-registered preparers must meet continuing education requirements and minimum qualifications. Attorneys, certified public accountants and IRS-enrolled agents aren’t required to register, but do have other professional requirements. Ask to see the preparer’s registration certificate or proof that he or she isn’t required to register. One can also verify that a tax preparer is registered online.

Ask About Fees

Ask to see a list of fees up front. The fees should be directly related to the services provided and not the refund amount. Tax preparers in New York City are required to display their fees, as well as their credentials, in plain sight. Also, by law, preparers cannot charge to e-file in New York.

Protect Your Refund

A refund should never be deposited into a preparer's bank account. The fastest and safest way to receive a refund is to have it directly deposited into one’s bank account.

Ensure Security

It’s critical one’s private information is protected. Question any potential preparer about how sensitive data will be safeguarded, as well as how many people will have access to files.

Look for Red Flags

Never hire a preparer who won’t sign a return, and never sign a return before it’s fully prepared. One and one’s preparer must both sign a completed return. Preparers must include their federal preparer tax identification number (PTIN) or Social Security number on the return, and either their New York state registration number or exclusion code.

Beware of preparers who say they will prepare a return for a percentage of the refund. If a tax preparer won’t provide information about fees, this should tip one off that something isn’t right. Never hire a preparer who promises a large refund without reviewing one’s information, and steer clear of those who suggest one claim a bogus deduction or credit.

In the end, one is responsible for the information on one’s return, and can be held accountable if it’s inaccurate or fraudulent.

For additional information, visit Tips for hiring a tax preparer. If one suspects a tax preparer is engaged in illegal or improper conduct, file a complaint with the New York State Tax Department: on our website, or by phone at 518-530-HELP.

The Tax Department will review complaints promptly and, if appropriate, take corrective action that may include sanctions.

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