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Published: Monday, 2/23/2009

Fear tax woes? Know when to go to a pro


Laura Hay, a certified public accountant, recalls the time when she first realized that she was no longer capable of doing her own taxes.

Her husband had started a business and she had bought a popular tax software program to do the family taxes.

I had helped do all his filings and withholdings, but we had crossed this line and I don t do taxes professionally, said Ms. Hay, chief operating officer for the Ohio Society of CPAs. I thought I had done everything right, but I realized there was nobody there to review it.

So she took her tax forms to a CPA tax specialist and she has used the specialist ever since for the family taxes, she said.

Experts say there is no wrong or right time to surrender the task of doing one s own taxes. But as Ms. Hay and others advise, if you begin to feel out of your comfort zone, it may be time to let a professional do the tax preparation.

The tax code has become so convoluted that there s a lot of people that don t understand it all, Ms. Hay said. When is the time to think about using a tax expert? I think it s when you ve had major changes in your situation because you may not even know what rules apply or what deductions you may be entitled to.

The Internal Revenue Service simply holds taxpayers responsible for the tax returns, no matter who prepares them. The IRS has a list of tips to consider before choosing a tax preparer. It recommends:

• Asking about fees before a return is prepared and avoiding preparers who base fees on a percentage of your refund or claim they can get larger refunds than others.

• Only using tax professionals who will sign a return and provide copies for records, and avoiding those who want you to sign a blank form.

• Choosing a preparer who will be around to answer questions after a return is filed, and seeking opinions of others who have used the preparer.

• Checking up on the preparer with the Better Business Bureau, the state board of accountancy for CPAs, or the state bar association for attorneys.

The Ohio Society of CPAs has similar guidelines and suggests that a taxpayer looking to hire a professional ask how long the preparer has been in business, if they ll provide references, and how busy they are right now.

The organization also recommends asking whether the tax preparer will represent you in an audit, pay any penalties for errors they caused, and how aggressive they are in their tax strategies and methods.

Contact Jon Chavez at:jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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