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How to Select an Income Tax Return Preparer

Tips from the Internal Revenue Service and the State of California Franchise Tax Board

Make Informed Decisions

Before you select a tax preparer or tax preparation services:

  • Check the tax preparer’s credentials to ensure the tax preparer meets your specific needs.
  • Review the tax preparer’s history with these various licensing authorities:
    • California Board of Accountancy for certified public accountants (CPAs) and public accountants (PAs).
    • California Tax Education Council (CTEC) for CTEC-registered tax preparers (CRTPs).
    • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Return Preparer Office of Enrollment for enrolled agents (EAs).
    • The State Bar of California for attorneys.
  • Determine who will prepare your tax return before you contract for the service. Avoid tax preparers who delegate work to someone with less experience or knowledge.
  • Ask if the tax preparer has a professional organization affiliation. The organization should provide or require its members to obtain continuing education and require them to adhere to an ethics code.
  • Avoid tax preparers who guarantee a larger refund than other tax preparers. Given the same information, any qualified tax preparer should arrive at similar numbers.
  • Select a tax preparer who can assist you if the IRS or the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) contact you or audit your tax return.
  • Understand your tax return. A good tax preparer should clearly answer any questions about your tax return.
  • Review all information before you sign your tax return: name, address, social security numbers, or other tax identification numbers.
  • e-file and request a direct deposit refund. You generally receive your refund within 10 days.
  • Understand the fees and interest rates tax preparers may charge on Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs).

Preparer Tax Identification Number Requirement:

All paid tax return preparers are required to obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) from the IRS and renew it annually.

Go to irs.gov and search for choose a tax professional for additional information.

Avoid a tax preparer who:

  • Does not provide you a copy of your tax return.
  • Does not exercise due diligence in tax return preparation.
  • Charges unconscionable tax return preparation fees.
  • Asks you to sign a blank tax return, or sign a tax return in pencil.
  • Does not provide a PTIN on your tax return.
  • Refuses to sign your tax return or complete the required tax preparer information.
  • Is not properly registered or licensed, including new IRS regulations.

Report Fraudulent Tax Preparers

Contact IRS

Website:
Go to irs.gov and search for preparer complaint.
Phone:
800.829.0433

Contact FTB

Website:
Go to ftb.ca.gov and search for report tax fraud.
Phone:
800.540.3453

Know the Law

No matter who prepares your tax return, you are legally responsible for its accuracy. The law requires a paid tax preparer to sign your tax return and complete the information in the space provided for paid tax preparers.Tax evasion is a crime which can be punishable by penalties, prison, and/or a fine.

Find Information About Your California Tax Preparer

Contact the appropriate California or federal licensing or regulatory agencies:

California Board of Accountancy
Licenses and regulates California CPAs and PAs.

Website:
dca.ca.gov/cba
Phone:
916.263.3680

California Tax Education Council (CTEC)
Registers California tax preparers not otherwise regulated.

Website:
ctec.org
Phone:
877.850.2832

IRS Return Preparer Office of Enrollment
Enrolls and regulates EAs.

Website:
Go to irs.gov and search for verify enrolled agent status.
Phone:
855.472.5540

The State Bar of California
Licenses and regulates California attorneys.

Website:
calbar.ca.gov
Phone:
866.442.2529

Under California State Law, if your California paid tax preparer is not licensed or regulated by one of these agencies, the tax preparer may be preparing tax returns illegally.

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Last Updated: ised 10/2015