Dear Ms. 1040EZ,

I'm getting ready to do my taxes and this year I have medical expenses that should make me eligible to itemize. But I feel that I will need help. How do I choose a tax preparer?

Looking in Barnesville

Dear Looking,

Taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else, so they should choose wisely.

Here are some suggestions that the IRS has for you to consider before hiring a tax professional:

- A paid preparer must sign the return as required by law.

- Avoid preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers. If returns are prepared correctly, every preparer should derive substantially similar numbers.

- Beware of a preparer who guarantees results or who bases fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund. A practitioner may not charge a contingent fee (percentage of your refund) for preparing an original tax return.

- Understand that the most reputable preparers will request to see receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other items. By doing so they have your best interest in mind and are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest or additional taxes that could result from an IRS examination.

- Choose a preparer you will be able to contact and one who will be responsive to your needs. Ask who will actually prepare the return before engaging services. Avoid firms where your work will be delegated down to someone with less training or some unknown worker. You should know exactly who works with your tax matters at all times and how to contact him or her; after all, you are paying for it. Determine if the preparer is exporting your return to a foreign country for preparation. Foreign countries do not have the same security and privacy laws as the United States nor is there any recourse should your information be compromised as a result of lax or nonexistent privacy procedures.

- Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state's board of accountancy for CPA's, the state's bar association for attorney's or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.

- Determine if the preparer's credentials meet your needs. Is he or she an Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Tax Attorney? Only attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection actions and appeals. Other return preparers may represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return that they signed as a preparer.

- Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides or requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.

- Check for information regarding abusive shelters and other tax schemes and scams. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.

Hope these guidelines provided by the IRS help in your decision making.

...MS. 1040EZ

As always, check with your tax preparer regarding any of these issues.

Submit questions to:

Ms. 1040EZ

PO Box 13

Barnesville, OH 43713

Or e-mail: (Please enter "Ms. 1040EZ" in the subject line.)