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How to Find the Best Tax Preparer Near You

Taxes can be complicated. If you need some help this year, this checklist could help you find the right tax preparer near you.
Tina Orem
By Tina Orem 
Updated
Edited by Chris Hutchison

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Maybe you've worked with a tax preparer before, but did you ever ask them about their credentials?

Many people don't, even though tax preparers have access to information about your most personal details, including your bank accounts, your marriage, your kids — and your Social Security number.

Here are eight tips on how to find the best tax preparer or tax professional near you.

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8 tips for finding a tax preparer or tax professional near you

1. Ask for a preparer tax identification number (PTIN)

The IRS requires anyone who prepares or assists in preparing federal tax returns for compensation to have a preparer tax identification number, or PTIN

. Note the phrase “for compensation” — volunteer tax preparers don’t need PTINs. Make sure your income tax preparer puts their PTIN number on your return; the IRS requires that, too.

2. Require a CPA, law license or enrolled agent designation

How do you find the best tax preparer near you with the credentials you want? One way is to search the IRS’s directory. It includes preparers with PTINs and IRS-recognized professional credentials. Volunteer preparers and preparers with just PTINs won’t be in the database.

A PTIN is a basic requirement that's relatively easy to get, though, so it doesn’t hurt to go a step further and seek out a credentialed preparer who’s also a certified public accountant (CPA), licensed attorney or enrolled agent (EA). The amount of ongoing study for each designation will vary, but these professionals are generally held to a higher standard of education and expertise.

You can also consider working with a tax pro who has completed the IRS’ Annual Filing Season program. The Accredited Business Accountant/Advisor and Accredited Tax Preparer are examples of programs that help preparers fulfill the Annual Filing Season Program requirement. 

3. Look for friends in high places

Membership in a professional organization is always a good thing to have in a tax pro, as most have codes of ethics, professional conduct requirements and various certification programs. Professional associations may also be better equipped to connect you with a tax preparer whose experience and background meet your needs.

A few notable organizations include:

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

  • Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA).

  • National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP).

  • National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

  • National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA).

  • National Society of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).

  • The International Society of Filipinos in Finance and Accounting (ISFFA).

If you already work with a financial advisor, you can also check to see if they offer tax planning or advisory services. Their firm may be able to easily connect you with a tax pro.

» Looking for more help? Compare the best wealth advisors

4. Do a background search

Looking into someone's credentials or work history might be the last thing on your mind as tax season rolls up, but taking that extra step could ensure that your financial information is in safe hands. One way to do so is to check the preparer or firm's reputation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). You can also dig deeper into your preparer's background, depending on their specific title:

5. Compare tax preparation fees

How much do tax preparers charge? According to a 2023 Drake Software survey of over 1,000 tax preparers in the United States, those surveyed expect to charge an average fee of $251 for preparing a nonitemized Form 1040 in 2024. For an itemized Form 1040, that fee jumps to $298

Often, tax preparers either charge a minimum fee, plus cost based on the complexity of your return, or they charge a set fee for each form and schedule needed in your return. If you come across a tax preparer whose fee is based on the size of your refund or who says they can get you a bigger refund than the next person, that's a red flag.

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6. Reconsider tax preparers who don't e-file

The IRS requires any paid preparer who does more than 11 returns for clients to file electronically via the IRS’s e-file system

. If your tax preparer doesn’t offer e-file, it may be a sign the person isn’t doing as much tax prep as you thought.

7. Confirm they'll sign on the dotted line

The law requires paid preparers to sign their clients’ returns and provide their PTINs

Internal Revenue Service. Topic No. 254, How to Choose a Tax Return Preparer. Accessed Jul 12, 2023.
. Never sign a blank tax return — the preparer could put anything on the return, including their own bank account number so they can steal your refund.

8. Check if they would have your back

Enrolled agents, CPAs and attorneys with PTINs can represent you in front of the IRS on audits, payments, collection issues, and appeals

Internal Revenue Service. Topic No. 254, How to Choose a Tax Return Preparer. Accessed Jul 12, 2023.
. Preparers who just have PTINs can’t — even if they prepared your return. Preparers who complete the Annual Filing Season Program can represent clients only in limited circumstances.

Availability is also crucial. Even after the filing season is over and your tax return is history, the best tax preparers will take your call, respond to your email, or welcome you for a visit.

If meeting with a tax pro in person isn't critical, you may consider getting help online. Many online tax preparers now offer live assistance, so if you do have a question while you're filing, you can get help in real time.

» Need help choosing the right software? Explore the best tax preparation services.

Is it worth going to a tax preparer?

If you have a pretty simple tax return, you may not need anything more than a free tax filing service. Paid packages from tax providers can also be a less expensive way for people with more complicated tax situations to get their taxes done rather than seeing an in-person professional.

If you run a small business, have a tricky tax year, are a new investor or just want to talk with a person face to face, working with a tax preparer or another tax professional may be worth it.

What's the difference between a CPA and a tax preparer?

A CPA, or certified public accountant, is a person who has obtained licensing to practice as an accountant through a combination of educational requirements and exams. They may specialize in certain fields of accounting, such as taxation.

On the other hand, the term "tax preparer" is a catch-all category for both credentialed and noncredentialed professionals who prepare tax returns. The IRS mandates that anyone who receives compensation in exchange for preparing a tax return must have a PTIN, or a preparer tax identification number.

Frequently asked questions

If your adjusted gross income for 2023 was $79,000 or less, be sure to check out the IRS's Free File program, where you can access tax software from several brand-name providers for free.

All of the tax software providers we review also offer a free tier for filers with simple returns.

The tax filing deadline is Monday, April 15, 2024. Residents of Massachusetts and Maine have until April 17, 2024, because of state holidays.

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