Topic: Taxes
Who is affected: Consumers at any Life Stage
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy
What you’ll need: Questions to ask

What you need to know

Your taxes grow probably more complicated by the year, and you may think it’s time to bring in a preparer. But how do you find one who won’t wreck your return?

Understanding the different types of preparers is the first step.

  • Unlicensed preparer: Commonly found in tax preparation franchises, such as H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt. Preparers are unlicensed, but supervised.
  • Enrolled agent: Must pass an exam administered by the Internal Revenue Service before practicing. Enrolled agents specialize in taxes.
  • Certified Public Accountant: Has an advanced degree in accounting from an accredited university. CPAs also must be state-licensed and pass a nationally administered exam. However, depending on his or her specialty, a CPA may or may not have an advanced knowledge of taxes.

Next, never underestimate the power of a solid recommendation. Talk to trusted friends and family members; can someone endorse a stellar preparer? Failing that, don’t be afraid to ask for references, and be sure to follow up.

Finally, inquire about your preparer’s credentials and availability. Does your preparer belong to professional organizations? Will he or she be around after April? Your preparer should be available, in case you need sound post-tax season advice.

Step-by-step
Eliminate tax return surprises by calculating your tax bracket. Find out how much your bracket is expected to pay up at tax time.
Wages, tips, etc.:
Filing status:
No. of dependents:
Itemized deductions:

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