This year, the IRS began accepting tax returns on January 29, with nearly 155 million individual tax returns expected to be filed in 2018. The tax deadline this year is April 17, giving taxpayers two extra days to file their returns. Better Business Bureau® of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers tips on finding reliable tax preparers and tax preparation services.
Many tax preparation software companies and tax professionals have been handling returns leading up to the official opening of tax season. Though the IRS is accepting both electronic and paper tax returns, paper returns will only start being processed in mid-February as IRS system updates continue. The IRS encourages people to file their taxes electronically for faster refunds.
“For many, tax refunds are eagerly anticipated and a cash influx people budget for early in the year,” said Susan Adams Loyd, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “For this reason and many others, it’s extremely important to find a reliable tax preparer.”
Once again, the IRS will hold refunds for returns that contain an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or an Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until February 15, to ensure the claims are accurate. The IRS expects the earliest EITC, ACTC-related refunds to be available starting on February 27, if direct deposit was chosen and there are no other issues with the tax return.
Taxpayers using a tax software product for the first time will need their adjusted gross income from their 2017 tax return to file electronically. Taxpayers using the same software as last year will not need to enter that information to electronically sign their 2018 tax return. Using an electronic filing PIN is no longer an option.
BBB offers the following tips on finding a trustworthy tax preparer:
• File early. By filing your tax return early, you lower your risk of being a victim of tax refund fraud.
• Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family, and research free BBB business profiles at bbb.org.
• Consider accessibility. Some tax preparers wind down operations shortly after the April 17 tax deadline. In case of an audit or if issues arise, be sure you know how to contact your tax preparer throughout the year.
• Bigger isn’t always better. Be wary of tax preparation services that promise larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund.
• Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider.
• Make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Anyone who prepares or assists in preparing federal tax returns for compensation must have a valid 2018 PTIN before preparing returns. All enrolled agents must also have a valid PTIN.
• Investigate your tax preparer’s history with your state’s Board of Accountancy (for CPAs), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.
• Remember that a paid preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your tax return. Never sign a blank return.
• Read the contract carefully. Be sure you understand how much it will cost for the service, how that cost will be affected if your tax return is more involved and time-consuming than expected, and whether the preparer will represent you in case of an audit.
• Don’t forget about Free File. If your adjusted gross income is $66,000 or less, Free File offers free Federal tax preparation and e-filing. Free state returns options are also available. Visit irs.gov/freefile to learn more.
Contact TIGTA, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, if you have concerns about your tax service, believe you’re a victim of tax refund fraud or if your tax preparer is uncommunicative and your tax return is stuck in limbo.
The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org, 651-699-1111, or toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.