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Ask The Experts: What to Look for in a Tax Preparer

I recently moved to North Carolina and am looking for someone to do my taxes. I have heard you say to get a referral through a friend, but we just moved and we do not know anyone well enough yet to get a good referral, is there a tool or website or government agency that we can go to for some referrals? -Nick, NC

Unfortunately, it's difficult to find a resource that will make a good recommendation for a tax preparer. Often, sites that offer "referrals" are really just featuring advertisements paid for by the professionals.

If you don't have a friend or neighbor you trust yet, maybe you could ask someone you work with? Hopefully a colleague or supervisor could point you toward someone reliable.

If you still have no one you can ask and you have to go it alone, here are a few tips that you should keep in mind:

Avoid large "chain" tax preparation services. While they have great name recognition, that doesn't mean they offer the best quality. Don't take your chances there just because the name is familiar.

Look for someone with a certification like a CPA or an Enrolled Agent (EA). Those certifications mean something in the accounting world, and can get you one step closer to finding someone reliable.

Interview two or three potential tax preparers. By the time you're done with this process, you should have a good idea of who you would like to work with. At the very least, you'll have a comparison of fees.

Avoid anyone who says they can get you a huge refund, or who says you can deduct just about anything. You're responsible for the information on your tax return, regardless of what the tax preparer tells you. Work with someone honest.

When interviewing tax preparers, you should ask about their licensing, how long they have been preparing taxes, whether they're able to handle your specific situations, who will actually do the work on your tax return, how long it will take to prepare the taxes, and how much they will charge you.

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Tracy Coenenis an On The Money contributor, fraud investigator and forensic accountant, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.