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Where to find your perfect tax preparer

Tax filing season is about to start. Most tax returns -- almost 90 percent, according to the Internal Revenue Service -- are filled out using tax preparation software.

Tax preparer helping a client_US Army photoA tax preparer helps a client file her taxes. (U.S. Army photo) 

But most of those electronically prepared 1040s actually were completed by tax professionals. No kidding.

Of the almost 132 million e-filed returns last year, around 60 percent were filed by tax professionals.

DIY vs. professionally prepared taxes: Yes, the do-it-yourself e-filing segment is growing. IRS statistics from 2016 show that the self-prepared segment of e-filers increased by more than 5 percent over the prior year, while e-filing by tax pros was up last year only fractionally.

And during a webinar I just tuned into this afternoon, the presenters -- both tax professionals -- said that DIY tax returns are growing 23 times faster than professionally prepared ones.

Still, there are times and tax situations where a paid tax professional is not only welcome, but needed.

In addition to having a tax pro plugging in your tax data, you also get the benefit of personal consultation and help on your current return as well as in planning for future filings.

Picking the proper tax pro: You first need to determine which type of tax preparer best fits your filing and financial needs. Then you need to check out the potential preparers.

And, of course, you want one that's good, qualified and convenient.

Yes, many tax preparers' calendars and client lists are filling up fast. But if you do need or want personalized tax filing assistance this year, you have options.

Even the IRS wants to help with your tax preparer search.

Finding one in your area: The agency has its own directory of preparers. The online listing includes professionals who hold credentials recognized by the IRS, as well as those who earn an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion of continuing tax education programs.

And in conjunction with major tax professional groups, the IRS has provided links to tax preparer online search engines that can help you find the perfect tax pro to get you through the 2017 filing season.

They are:

American Academy of Attorney-CPAs (AAA-CPA) -- AAA-CPA is the only organization comprised of individuals who are dually-qualified as Attorneys and Certified Public Accountants.

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) -- The AICPA is the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession. . 

National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) -- NAEA is a professional society representing enrolled agents (EAs), who earn their licenses from the Department of Treasury by passing a three-part exam administered by IRS.

National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) -- NATP has members in all 50 states who focus specifically on federal tax preparation.

National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP) -- NCCPAP is a professional organization that advocates on issues that are of importance to CPAs in Public Practice and their clients throughout the United States.

National Society of Accountants (NSA) -- NSA and its state affiliates represent independent practitioners who provide accounting, tax, auditing, financial and estate planning and management services to individuals and businesses.

National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP) -- NSTP works with its members to help them attain expertise, proficiency and competency in all areas of tax compliance and preparation.

As I mentioned, client lists for all these tax pros are filing up fast. So if you want to work with a tax professional this year, you best get your search started.

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Jamaal Solomon, EA

Great post! As an Enrolled Agent, it is both interesting and scary to see the rise of DIY tax software. I'm the first to tell any taxpayer with a simple tax return to use a DIY if possible. However, you got some taxpayers with complex schedules A, C, D and Es trying to use DIY software. They believe that a computer will ask and cover everything required to file the tax returns. This leads to more costly errors and mistakes. I hope taxpayers really take note to the great sources of information in this posts. We have too much shady tax professionals hurting our profession with promises of quick and easy refunds.

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