With so many resources at your fingertips, deciding whom to trust with your personal information can be overwhelming and confusing. Why is choosing a trustworthy tax return preparer so important? Your tax return preparer will have access to your legal name, date of birth, social security number, home address, and your banking address. This is a lot of private information! This information must be kept secure, which is why it is so important to select a reputable tax return preparer. 

As the taxpayer, you are on the hook for anything that is filed on your tax return. When you sign a tax return, you are signing it under “penalty of perjury.” This is the same as when you “raise your hand and solemnly swear to tell the whole truth” in court. Even though your tax preparer may have prepared your return, YOU are held responsible, since you are providing the information to the return preparer. No need to worry, though! There are many great resources available to help you find reputable tax return preparers to guide you through this process. 

Check the preparer’s qualifications. Maryland requires a tax return preparer to be certified by the Maryland State Board of Individual Tax Preparers unless they are an Attorney, CPA, or an IRS Enrolled Agent. You can check the Maryland Board of Individual Tax Preparers – Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (state.md.us) to search for registered tax preparers. Registered tax return preparers are required to have a current Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) issued by the IRS, and the preparer must put their PTIN on any tax returns they prepare. 

Availability. New offices often open during tax season and end up disappearing when it ends that year. These are places to avoid! If the IRS has a question about your return, you want your preparer to be accessible year-round to help you answer these questions. 

Provide records and receipts. A good preparer will ask to see your records and receipts. 

Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base fees on the percentage of the refund. 

Tax preparers who do not sign the return. Avoid anyone who won’t take responsibility for their work.  

Tax preparers who want you to sign a blank tax return. Signing the return means that you are legally certifying its accuracy. You need to review it before you sign it. If it’s blank when you sign it, then the tax return preparer can enter incorrect information afterwards.

Anyone who requests a portion or all, of your refund be deposited into their bank account for any reason. Your refund should go straight to you. 

Tax preparer who promises refunds by a certain date. The IRS states that there are no guarantees that refunds will be granted within a specific time. Tax preparers who claim that your return will be processed by an exact date should not be trusted. 

Tax preparers who guarantee a refund before seeing your tax documents. They can’t know this until they run the numbers. Be skeptical if they claim otherwise. 

Someone who calls you or emails you claiming to be an agent of the IRS. The IRS will never reach out to you initially by phone or email. The IRS will mail you a letter.  Also, the IRS never accepts payment by gift card.  

Trustworthy resources, include: 

The CASH Campaign of Maryland (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope)— CASH is a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program. These programs are reputable because they are certified by the IRS to prepare tax returns for people who earn $58,000 or less per household. They are also able to assist persons with disabilities, and limited English-speaking taxpayers. To contact CASH, call 410-528-8008 or visit their website at https://cashmd.org/. 

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Assistance Program— This program is certified by the IRS to help individuals prepare tax returns. There is no age limit or requirement to be a retired person to receive tax return preparation assistance. To contact AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Assistance, call 888-687-2277 or visit their website at https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/.

For other tax controversy questions or issues, please call Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service at 410-547-6537 or visit www.mvls.org. 

Kali Krockover is a legal intern at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) and Janice Shih, Director of Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) at MVLS (www.mvlslaw.org).  

Do you have a question you would like to see addressed in this column? Email ask@mvlslaw.org to submit your question to the Baltimore Times’ legal tip column.

Kali Krockover
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Janice Shih
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