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How to choose a tax preparer

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IRS voluntary education program
IRS regulations in force | Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

IRS voluntary education program

For years, anyone who wanted to prepare taxes could simply hang out a shingle and start filling out tax returns for a fee. Such operations include accountants, mom and pop tax preparation firms and storefronts that pop up in January and close in April.

While a few states have regulated tax preparers, there was no federal oversight in place.

However, in recent years, the IRS has been offering a voluntary program designed to encourage tax return preparers to participate in continuing education courses. This effort, known as the Annual Filing Season Program, is open to any preparer but targets tax pros who do not get credentials through other groups or professional associations.

The voluntary program requires 18 hours of continuing education, including a six-hour federal tax law refresher course and test.  The IRS also is still issuing each tax preparer a preparer tax identification number, or PTIN.

The program remains in place for the 2017 filing season. However, it's the taxpayer's responsibility to check out any tax professional, with or without outside credentials. Be sure to ask any potential tax preparer for references and assurances that the office will be open after your return is filed in case you or the IRS has follow-up questions.

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