Most Americans will get assistance from a professional tax preparer or tax software when filing their taxes this year.
Better Business Bureau of New England is encouraging Vermont taxpayers to use caution when selecting tax preparation help or they may get hit with headaches and mounting fines and fees if the return isn't correct or filed late.
According to the IRS, 80 percent of Americans enlist the help of a tax preparer or tax software when filing their taxes. Unfortunately, every year BBB receives thousands of complaints from consumers against tax preparers. Commonly, complainants state that the tax preparer made errors in their return which resulted in fines and fees.
"Even though the tax preparer completes the return, it's the taxpayer who is ultimately responsible for the return's accuracy and whether or not it's filed on time," said Paula Fleming, BBB New England spokeswoman. "The fines, fees and hassles can mount if you choose an unreliable tax preparer and that's why it's important to do your research."
BBB offers the following advice to find a trustworthy tax preparer:
• Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check the BBB Reliability Report on tax preparation services at bbb.org.
• Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an enrolled agent. All three can represent you before the IRS in all matters, including an audit. Also, find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that holds its members to a code of ethics.
• Don't fall for the promise of a big refund. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid any tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.
• Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year.
• Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.