Hiring a professional to prepare your taxes

Benjamin Franklin is credited with writing that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If you’re reading this, you’re not dead, so you must be looking for information about income tax preparation.

While many people prepare and file income taxes themselves, the best way to maximize deductions, get a big refund and avoid the ire of the IRS is to hire a professional tax professional to do the job. They can save you time, money and stress.

The National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) is a Wisconsin-based, nonprofit association that serves professionals working in all areas of tax practice. NATP members work in offices that help more than 11 million people with tax preparation and planning. Members include individual tax preparers, enrolled agents, certified public accountants, accountants, attorneys and financial planners.

Here’s some handy information from the NATP that you can use this tax season.

How to find the right tax professional

Do you know a deduction from a credit? Are you subject to the alternative minimum tax? Are receipts required before claiming charitable donations? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, or pretty much any other tax-related questions, you’re not alone.

“Tax law is not getting easier to understand and consumers are finding that software packages do not ensure correct preparation,” explains Cindy Hockenberry, NATP research coordinator. “Tax preparers frequently see clients who tried it on their own, had errors, and then needed help sorting it all out.”

Many times the errors are the result of incorrect entries and misunderstanding the questions. Errors often don’t go in a taxpayer’s favor. These are usually the clients who remain with a preparer for life.

If you decide that obtaining a tax preparer is the best decision for you, be sure that the tax preparer you are hiring is qualified. The IRS requires all paid tax preparers to register with the IRS and to obtain a preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Don’t let someone prepare your taxes if they don’t have a PTIN. Also, all tax preparers must sign the returns they prepare, so avoid those who are unwilling to sign the return. Never sign a blank return!

When determining who should be your tax professional, ask them about their qualifications. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure they don’t have a questionable history. Ask if they are up-to-date on continuing education requirements. Ask if they are affiliated with a professional organization, such as the National Association of Tax Professionals.

All NATP members agree to a strict code of ethics and standards of professional conduct. To see the NATP's list of professionals in your area, visit www.natptax.com and click on "Find a Tax Pro."