Ocean County Press Release
Take Care in Choosing Tax Preparer

INCOME TAX preparation season doesn't have to cause stress or undue angst if you let a qualified professional take care of your return.

But, Ocean County Consumer Affairs officials warn that finding the right preparer is key to having returns filed properly.

"Hiring a professional can most times be a relief, but making sure it's the right person takes a little effort," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as Chairman of Consumer Affairs. "Most preparers provide excellent service to their clients but there are some things you can watch for to make sure the experience is a positive one."

Vicari along with the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs is offering some helpful hints if you decide to hire a professional to prepare your tax return:

• Be careful with tax preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
• Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of the refund.
• Use a reputable tax professional who signs your tax return and provides you with a copy for your records.
• Consider whether the individual or firm will be around to answer questions about the preparation of your return months, or even years, after the return has been filed.
• Review your return before you sign it and ask questions on entries you don't understand.
• No matter who prepares your tax return, you (the taxpayer) are responsible for all of the information on your tax return. Therefore, never sign a blank tax form.
• Find out the person's credentials. Only attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection and appeals. Other preparers may only represent taxpayers for audits of returns they actually prepared.
• Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and resources and holds them to a code of ethics.
• Ask questions.

Everybody wants to get the most they can back from the federal government but filing a fraudulent return is a criminal act and could be subject to a fine, or worse, jail time, Vicari said.

Return preparer fraud generally involves the preparations and filing of false income tax returns by preparers who claim inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, unallowable credits or excessive exemptions on returns prepared for their clients. Preparers may also manipulate income figures to obtain tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, fraudulently.

Vicari noted that in some situations, the client (taxpayer) may not have knowledge of the false expenses, deductions, exemptions and/or credits shown on their tax returns.
However, when the IRS detects the false return, the taxpayer – not the return preparer – must pay the additional taxes and interest and may be subject to penalties.

"Taxpayers should be as careful choosing a tax preparer as they would a doctor or lawyer," he said. "It is important to realize that even though someone else might have prepared your return, you are ultimately responsible for its content."

A reputable preparer will ask to see your receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your qualifications for expenses, deductions, and other items. By doing this, they are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest or additional taxes that could result from an IRS audit.

The Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs can assist in determining if the professional you are considering is registered and/or licensed. For more information call 732-929-2105.

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