YOUR TAXES : TAXES CAN BE YOUR FRIEND : How to Choose a Professional Tax Preparer

Sometimes choosing a tax preparer can be almost as complicated as filling out a 1040.

The key is to get a preparer whose level of expertise will meet--but not exceed--your needs. You don’t need to pay a tax attorney to handle a simple return, but if your finances are extremely complicated, a part-time tax preparer won’t do.

The IRS offers a few guidelines for choosing a preparer:

- Ask for recommendations from friends or relatives.


- Avoid a preparer who claims to have a special relationship with the IRS.

- Use a preparer who is in business year-round. You may need your preparer should you be called in for an audit.

- Avoid any preparer who offers to provide documentation to support false or exaggerated deductions.

After your return is prepared, the IRS suggests:


- Check the completed return before signing it and question the preparer on any item you do not understand.

- Be sure to obtain a copy of the return and make sure that the preparer has signed it.

The IRS also cautions against using fly-by-night operators who prey primarily on non-English-speaking taxpayers. These people often work out of vans in supermarket parking lots and are known for preparing inaccurate returns.

Handicapped, elderly and non-English-speaking taxpayers can get free tax preparation help through the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. If interested, you may call (800) 424-1040 for the nearest VITA location.

Finally, modern technology has given some taxpayers one more reason to see a preparer. This year for the first time in Southern California, some preparers can now file returns electronically with the IRS. This service is for those expecting refunds only. One other advantage: After your return is sent via computer to the IRS, your refund can be deposited directly into your bank account. IRS spokeswoman Shirley Nakagawa said electronic filing will cut the amount of time it takes to get a refund by about half.