The full 2014 tax filing season officially opens in 10 days. Are you ready?
If this is the year that you finally hand off your tax hassles to a professional, you'd better start your search. Good tax preparers are quickly booked.
And you need to make sure you hire the tax pro who's best for your filing circumstances.
Sorting through tax pro options: Finding the right tax help is a lot like the whole tax system. It's not a simple process.
Among your choices are franchise tax preparation firms, accountants (including CPAs), Enrolled Agents, attorneys or the mom and pop tax office down the street. Each has something for some filers, but not necessarily for every filer. So make your choice carefully.
That's the word not just from me, but also the Internal Revenue Service. For years, the agency has been trying to set up a system under which it register and test tax preparers to help ensure that they meet a minimum competency level.
It has been, and continues to be, a contentious proposal that now is pending in federal court. Three tax preparers filed suit challenging the IRS authority to regulate them. They won the first round. Court watchers say that the IRS outlook for approval of its plan is dim based on the latest appeals hearing.
Support from the top: New IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, however, supports the effort. In his first press conference after being sworn in Jan. 6, he said the IRS would press ahead with efforts to regulate tax-return preparers even if it loses in court.
Requiring paid preparer certification and minimum continuing education would bolster taxpayers' confidence in the tax services they buy, Koskinen said.
And many tax preparers, he noted, would voluntarily accept IRS certification and testing so they could use it as a marketing tool.
"Win or lose in the court case, we ought to be able to move forward on that," the new commission said. "The fact that it's tied up in court shouldn't keep us from moving forward even on a voluntary basis."
That approach also has been suggested by the National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson.
Some states do oversee tax professionals. If you live in California, Maryland, Oregon or, new this filing season, New York, you'll get some help in evaluating your potential tax pro.
The rest of us elsewhere in the country, though, will have to do our own vetting of any tax preparer we hire.
So get to work now on finding the person who'll help you get your taxes done this year.
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