Q. What advice would you give a customer looking to hire a provider in your area of work?
A. As the U.S. tax code has become increasingly more complex, more and more individual taxpayers are turning to professional tax preparers for assistance. Unfortunately, paying a professional won't necessarily make your return accurate, and it won't absolve you of liability if there is a mistake.
For example, California requires tax preparers to be licensed and meet continuing education requirements. However, a 2008 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that paid preparers in California made more mistakes than paid preparers in other states.
The problem is many preparers in California work only part time (during tax season) or have limited training or experience in dealing with the IRS.
"The tax code has become more and more complicated each year that individuals can't be expected to accurately prepare their own returns" said Jeffrey Barth, CPA, a certified public accountant in Newport Beach, CA.
If you are looking for professional assistance, look for the following:
1. A Certified Public Accountant: They typically have more experience and knowledge that state-licensed tax preparers.
2. Someone who is in business year-round: The IRS doesn't only work 3 to 4 months out of the year. If you get a notice in August or September, who are you going to call?
3. Avoid retail chains: There are often hidden fees in the national chain that taxpayers don't realize they are paying. Many individual tax payers are afraid that they cannot afford a CPA. The fact is average fees for basic tax returns at the national chains are often higher than what a local CPA may charge.