Brace yourselves. It’s tax season. If you’re an early bird, the IRS will begin accepting tax returns on January 23. If you tend to file a little later, however, you also have a few extra days, as the tax deadline this year is on April 18. BBB receives thousands of complaints against tax preparers every year. Common complaints state that the tax preparer made errors in their return which resulted in fines and fees. Other complaints allege customer service, billing and contract issues. BBB reminds consumers to be selective when hiring someone to prepare your return.

“Preparing your tax return is not only complex and confusing”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB serving Central East Texas “It can also be loaded with pitfalls if you hire someone who isn’t qualified to prepare them for you.”

BBB offers the following advice when searching for a tax preparer:

Ask Around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check BBB profiles on local tax preparers and tax preparation services.  Make sure to search for a tax preparer who is an expert in the type of service that is needed.

Don’t Fall for the Promise of Big Refunds. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and steer clear of tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.  Request an estimate and discuss the price before making an agreement.  The cost of the service should be determined by the complexity of the return.

Look for Credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider. Be sure to 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.

Make Sure They Have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). A PTIN must be obtained by all tax return preparers who are compensated for preparing or assisting in the preparation of, all or substantially all of any U.S. federal tax return, claim for refund, or other tax form submitted to the IRS.

Investigate. Examine whether the preparer has any questionable history with your state’s Board of Accountancy (for certified public accountants), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.

Consider Accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to the tax filing deadline. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year; be sure to find out how you would do so.

Read the Contract Carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit. Make sure you get a copy of your return as well.

Be wary of tax scams.Identity thieves continue to create new ways of stealing personal information and using it for their gain. Knowing how to spot a scam can keep you from having major delays with your return and likewise help you avoid the stress of learning you are a victim.

Check IRS.gov and bbb.org for trusted tax preparation information. For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373 or report it via BBB ScamTracker.