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Tips for finding a qualified tax preparer

The largest tax code changes in the past 30 years are now fully in effect. This has led to more questions and caused some confusion this tax season. For many who may have done their own taxes in the past - especially small business owners - it is a good year to seek professional assistance.

One thing that has remained the same is that unscrupulous tax preparers continue to sell schemes to unlawfully reduce tax bills. From manufactured or inflated business deductions to incorrect application of the 20 percent flow through rules, these issues can even amount to fraud. You can avoid these problems by following several tips.

An office that is open year-round

While you may not need a CPA, look for a tax preparation firm that is open all year. Audits rarely kick off until months and sometimes years after a return is filed, so longevity of a tax prep firm is also important to consider.

The IRS has a tool that allows you to review the background and experience of a tax preparer. It can also be used to locate a tax professional with specific credentials. For example, attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents are the only professionals who can represent you before the IRS in any situation. Other preparers have a more limited scope of representation.

Fees charged on a understandable basis

It is a red flag if a fees are based in any way on the amount of your refund. Anyone advertising bigger refunds than competitors should also be avoided.

Fees should be understandable. Usually, there is a base fee and added fees relate to the number of schedules and forms you need to file, such as a Schedule A for individual itemized expenses or Schedule C for a business expenses.

Expect requests for documents and questions

Some preparers might cut corners and use a final pay stub rather than a W-2 or ask for estimates on business expenses. A good tax preparer will ask that you gather more documents before they can complete your return accurately. Tied in with this - never sign an incomplete tax return. You should be provided with an accurate, complete copy of your return to review before signing.

Also, expect questions which are required to determine eligibility for dependents, credits and deductions. If you have not kept records, it may not be possible to take certain expenses. A good tax professional can assist with planning for the next year to avoid these types of mistakes as well.

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