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Don't get tripped up this tax season

How much progress have you made on your 2017 taxes? More importantly, if you're not filing the return yourself, how trustworthy is your tax preparer?

The IRS began accepting tax returns on Jan. 23 and is expecting more than 153 million individual tax returns will be filed.

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota offers the following tips on finding a good tax preparer:

• Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and research free BBB business profiles on tax preparers and tax preparation services at bbb.org.

• Consider accessibility. Some tax preparation services wind down their operations shortly after the April 18 tax deadline. In case the IRS finds errors or in case of an audit, you need to be sure you know how to contact your tax preparer throughout the year.

• Bigger isn't always better. Be wary of tax preparation services that promise larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund.

• 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.

• Make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. A valid 2017 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 whether the preparer has any questionable history with your state's Board of Accountancy (for CPAs), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.

• Remember that a paid preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your tax return.

• Read the contract carefully. Read contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it will cost for the service, how that cost will be affected if your tax preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected, and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.

Don't forget about Free File. If your adjusted gross income is $64,000 or less, Free File offers free federal tax preparation and e-filing. Visit irs.gov/freefile to learn more.

There's also help for low-income taxpayers in Wadena County who are too overwhelmed to complete their tax forms — an IRS-sponsored free service called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Mahube-Otwa has been a part of this program for many years and is continuing the service this year.

Volunteers are specially trained to help low-income taxpayers with all the new credits, Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Dependent Care Credit, Rent Credit, and Minnesota property tax refunds. Every return is quality checked and reviewed by instructors and supervisors.

All appointments are made at the Mahube office at 311 Jefferson Street South by calling (218) 632-3600 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

A final tax tip: The bureau is warning people about tax refund fraud, a form of identity theft where someone else fraudulently files a tax return in your name. This is difficult to detect and can delay the tax refund you're due. According to the bureau, one of the best ways to avoid falling victim to this type of fraud is to file your tax return as soon as possible.

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