How to Choose a Tax Preparer

January 20, 2010 7:05:11 AM PST
Jason Tyler of Ariel Investments joins ABC7 with advice on choosing a tax preparer.While April 15th is officially the day your tax returns are due, now is a good time to determine if you need professional assistance and where to find it.

Why is choosing a tax preparer that is right for you so important?

First, you do not want to leave money on the table that is owed to you. In 2008, the average tax refund was $2,429, according to the IRS. That is a significant amount of money and a competent tax preparer can help that becomes yours. Next, you do not want your return to contain mistakes. You are responsible for any errors on your return, not the preparer. Even professionals make mistakes so that is why it is so important to choose a good tax professional. The right preparer can help you avoid future headaches, possible fines and get the money that is owed to you in your hands.

How do you go about choosing a tax preparer?

Make sure that the person you select is actually the person that will be personally preparing your return and not delegating it to someone you have never met. It is also important that you feel comfortable with your tax professional and that they answer your questions in a way that you understand without making you feel bad. Your tax preparer should be responsive and accessible. Also, some places open seasonal shops and when your filing is returned with an error, they are nowhere to be found after April 15th. Check credentials, go to a reputable place and confirm the preparer will be signing your return.

How much should you pay?

Filing yourself is always a viable, free option. If you do not have any children, investments or a mortgage, it might be easiest to file online through . It is easy, free and if you sign up for direct deposit, you usually receive your money in about two to three weeks. Once you start itemizing beyond the standard deductions, you should have a professional prepare your taxes. The average cost of a prepared return at specialty tax preparation places like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt is about $200. The rates are based on the complexity of your tax return and the amount of deductions and investments you have. They also have special offers for returning clients and new clients. For $29, H&R Block has a service called "Second Look". Before you officially file, they will double check your return that was prepared by someone other than them. They typically find approximately 78% of already-prepared returns do in fact contain mistakes. Of course, accountants and tax attorneys who specialize in complex tax returns for those with many deductions and investments will charge a higher fee.