Approximately 60 percent of U.S. citizens enlist the help of a paid tax professional to file their income tax returns, according to the Internal Revenue Service. And Parsippany-based Jackson Hewitt Tax Service says the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 may lead more people to seek out a professional.
Mark Steber, Jackson Hewitt's chief tax officer, says working with a paid preparer can make a difference.
"With the sweeping last-minute tax law changes, even taxpayers who have filed their own returns in past years with do-it-yourself software should think twice this time around," he said. "A paid professional [can] ensure their returns are accurate."
Steber added that people need to know what questions to ask and what to look for in a tax preparer.
"A skilled preparer who understands your tax situation, including all the tax deductions and credits available to you, can provide you with the best possible outcome," he said. "If you miss claiming certain tax benefits on a return, they are off the table—the IRS doesn't claim them for you."
When choosing a tax pro, Steber offers five tips:
- Engage now — The IRS will start to accept 2012 tax returns on Jan. 30. You may need some time to find a tax preparer who best meets your needs, so you'll want to start your search as soon as possible. It is important to ensure that your tax preparer is well-versed in all of the recent tax law changes and tax codes. The sooner you find the right preparer, the sooner you can start the filing process and ultimately get your refund, if you are owed one.
- Check the preparer's background — Make sure to go with someone who is qualified and credible, so check your tax preparer's history. You can conduct your own research through various sources such as the Better Business Bureau and state boards of accountancy for certified public accountants. You can also ask friends, family or co-workers for references to get a first-hand account of their experiences.
- Make sure the preparer is knowledgeable — Make sure your preparer understands how tax law changes may affect you.
- Avoid preparers who ask you to sign a blank return — It is important to review your tax return completely and ask questions before signing it. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for what is reported on your tax return. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return. Check for errors such as incorrect social security numbers and addresses; these common mistakes can delay IRS processing of your return.
- Use tax preparers who e-file — The majority of taxpayers today electronically file (e-file) their tax returns. E-filing is safer than filing a paper return, offers faster processing time, greater accuracy and confirmation the IRS has received your return.
"Taxpayers who have purchased off-the-shelf tax software and plan to prepare their own returns should confirm that these products are up-to-date, as many late-breaking changes have occurred that may not have been integrated by the time of purchase," Steber added. "Similarly, if you are using a trained tax professional, confirm that their software is current and up-to-date as well."