How do I safely find and pick a tax preparer or online tax software?
There are a lot of options out there for tax preparation help and online tax software. We all want accurate tax preparation, reasonable prices, and good service. But with so many options available, it can be difficult to choose. So let’s go over some tips.
How do I choose a tax preparer?
- Know what kind of tax preparer you need. Anyone can be a tax preparer with an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). But they have different levels of skills, experience, and education. An uncredentialed tax preparer can be very skilled, but a credentialed one (or one who is in the Annual Filing Season Program) is more likely to be very skilled. You can seek out credentialed tax preparers at the IRS Directory.
- Get good recommendations. What you want is a tax preparer with experience with tax situations like yours. Therefore, if you are self employed and your friend who only has W-2 income recommends a tax preparer, that has less value to you than a recommendation from someone who is also self employed. Don’t pick a tax preparer just because they are a friend or relative. A recommendation received on social media may be good or bad, so don’t blindly follow one of those recommendations. What matters most in the choice of tax preparer is experience, ethics, and due diligence, meaning the tax preparer thoroughly ensures the tax preparation is accurate.
- Choose a tax professional who is transparent on their pricing.
- Make sure the tax professional will be signing your tax return. Tax preparers are required to sign the tax returns that they prepare and file.
- Check for complaints. You can check with the Better Business Bureau. In some counties and cities, you can go online and check for court cases in which an individual is involved.
- Compare fees. Avoid tax preparers who promise they can get a bigger refund than other preparers and who charge by the size of the refund.
How do I pick which online tax software to use?
- Check if you qualify for IRS Free File and if one of the Free File partner’s tax software will suit your needs.
- Consider choosing the software of an IRS Free File partner (even if you don’t qualify for free) or a reputable name you recognize. You’ll know they aren’t scams and they serve many clients so it should be more likely they provide good customer service.
- If you used online software last year, consider the value of using the same software this year. Typically some of your previous tax return information will flow into your new tax return and that saves you time.
- Compare software options and pricing for the complexity level of your tax return.
- Check to see if state tax return filing is an additional cost or not.
- Find reputable articles to read which compare online tax software options.
- Compare what tax consulting and tax help options are available for the online tax software that you are considering. You may not plan on using those options, but they are good to have just in case you do end up needing them.
- Choose a tax software that doesn’t require you to pay anything until you file the tax return. This will allow you to change tax software if something doesn’t work out without losing anything but your time.
- Compare what guarantees are offered – both those that are included and those that come at additional cost.
Your choice in tax filing methods is about your taxes and your money. It is up to you to make the best choice you can. Following these tips will help you make your tax filing experience as pleasant as possible.
Jerry Zeigler is a Navy veteran who serves service members with financial counseling and education. As an Accredited Financial Counselor®, he is a member of the Better Financial Counseling Network and is the owner of JZ Financial Management. As a tax professional and Enrolled Agent, he has a passion for helping taxpayers navigate taxes.