The extension deadline is coming up – avoid bad apples when choosing a preparer

IRS Tax Tip 2023-109, Sept. 6, 2023

The Oct. 16, 2023, extension filing deadline is coming up, and many taxpayers who requested an extension are now choosing a tax return preparer. Most tax return preparers provide honest, quality service, but there are some bad apples out there – from unethical preparers to outright scammers. When hiring an individual or firm to prepare a tax return, taxpayers need to understand how to choose a tax preparer wisely and what questions to ask.

Things to consider when choosing a tax return preparer

  • Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN. By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or help prepare federal tax returns must have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number. Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on any tax return they prepare. Not signing a return is a red flag that the paid preparer may be looking to make a quick profit by promising a big refund or charging fees based on the size of the refund. Taxpayers should avoid these unethical tax return preparers.
  • Make sure the preparer is available year-round. If questions come up about a tax return, taxpayers may need to contact the preparer after the filing season is over.
  • Review the preparer's history. Taxpayers can check with the Better Business Bureau for information about the preparer, any disciplinary actions, and the license status for credentialed preparers. Other resources include: the State Board of Accountancy's website for CPAs; the State Bar Association for attorneys; and the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers for enrolled agents, or verify an enrolled agent's status online.
  • Ask about service fees. Taxpayers should avoid tax return preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or who offer to deposit all or part of the refund into their own financial accounts. Be wary of tax return preparers who claim they can get larger refunds than their competitors.
  • Ensure their preparer offers IRS e-file. The IRS issues most refunds in fewer than 21 days for taxpayers who file electronically and choose direct deposit.
  • Understand the preparer's credentials and qualifications. Attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent any client before the IRS in any situation. The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help identify many preparers by type of credential or qualification. Tax return preparers who participate in the Annual Filing Season Program may represent taxpayers in limited situations if they prepared and signed the tax return.

Once a taxpayer has selected a tax preparer, they should stay vigilant

  • Good preparers ask to see records and receipts. They'll also ask questions to determine the client's total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Taxpayers should avoid a tax return preparer who e-files using pay stubs instead of W-2s. This is against IRS rules.
  • Taxpayers should review the tax return before signing it and ask questions if something is unclear or inaccurate.
  • Any refund should go directly to the taxpayer – not into the preparer's bank account. Taxpayers should check the routing and bank account number on the completed return and make sure they're accurate.
  • Taxpayers are responsible for filing a complete and correct tax return. They should never sign a blank or incomplete return and never hire a tax return preparer who asks them to do so.

Taxpayers can report preparer misconduct to the IRS using Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return PreparerPDF. If a taxpayer suspects a tax return preparer filed or changed their tax return without their consent, they should file Form 14157-A, Tax Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct AffidavitPDF.

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