California Tax Education Council


Consumer Tips

Don't let tax season catch you off guard. Below are a few simple steps you can do to help you get prepared for your meeting with a legally qualified tax preparer.

Verify Your Tax Preparer belongs to one of the following groups who can legally charge a fee to prepare your tax returns:

  • CTEC Registered Tax Preparer (CRTP)
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Enrolled Agent (EA)
  • Attorney

Ask to see your tax preparer's current Credentials

Review Red Flag Warnings of Illegal Tax Preparers

Know your consumer rights

Print out Smart Questions to Ask Your Tax Preparer and conduct an interview with your preparer before agreeing to work with him or her

Gather all your tax documents

For more helpful information, check out CTEC's You Tube Video

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Credentials: What to look for

Before selecting a tax professional, ask to see proof that he or she is legally qualified to prepare tax returns for a fee. Qualified tax professionals should always be able to show you his or her current certificate, enrollment or an active license. The following list outlines the ways you can verify if your tax preparer belongs to one of the four groups of legal tax professionals.

  • CTEC Registered Tax Preparers (CRTPs)

    • Look for a CTEC sign or a wall certificate in his or her office
    • Ask to see his or her pocket identification card including name, address, phone number, CTEC identification number and expiration date
    • Go to www.ctec.org and click on "Verify a Tax Preparer"
    • Call CTEC toll-free at 877.850.CTEC (2832)
    • Ask to see his or her proof of a $5,000 surety bond
  • Certified Public Accountants (CPAs)

    • Look for a wall certificate in his or her office
    • Ask to see his or her pocket identification card including name, address, phone number, type of license, license number and expiration date
    • Go to www.cba.ca.gov and click on "License Lookup"
  • Enrolled Agents (EAs)

    • Look for a wall certificate in his or her office
    • Ask to see his or her pocket identification card including name, address, phone number, type of license, license number and expiration date
    • Call the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility at (313) 234-1280
  • Attorneys

    • Look for a wall certificate in his or her office
    • Go to www.calbar.org and click on "Attorney Search"

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Red Flag Warnings of Illegal Tax Preparers

As you begin your search for a qualified tax preparer, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the activities that some illegal tax preparers may engage in.

You should beware of the tax preparer who:

  • Claims to be a CTEC Registered Tax Preparer (CRTP) but is not listed on the CTEC Web site

  • Fails to give you his or her name, address, phone number and bond information

  • Refuses to sign your tax return(s)

  • Asks you to sign a blank tax form

  • Refuses to give you a copy of any documents you have signed

  • Promises a refund prior to looking at your tax information

  • Charges a fee based on a percentage of the refund

 

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Smart Questions to Ask Your Tax Preparer

An estimated 5,000 people are illegally preparing taxes in California, leaving many consumers with unexpected tax bills and penalties. By conducting a fifteen-minute interview with your prospective tax preparer, you may be able to protect yourself from an illegal tax preparer. The following list of questions is aimed at helping you gather the information you need to select an appropriate tax professional.

  1. Are you a CTEC Registered Tax Preparer (CRTP)?

  2. If not, which of the three other legally qualified tax professionals are you affiliated with?

    1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
    2. Enrolled Agent (EA)
    3. Attorney
  3. May I see your credentials?

  4. Do you take continuing education courses?

  5. As a CRTP, do you maintain a tax preparer surety bond as required by law?

  6. How will you determine a fee to prepare my tax returns? Can you provide me with a list of associated costs for your various services?

  7. Will you sign my tax returns?

  8. When can I expect to receive my completed tax returns back from you?

  9. Can I reach you year-round?

  10. How long have you been in business?

  11. Do you have a privacy statement I can file with my records?

  12. Will you store my tax information? If so, how will it be stored and for how long?

  13. Are you outsourcing your tax preparation service?

 

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