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Consumer Expert: Choosing the right tax professional

HOUSTON – Doing your taxes is kind of like going to the dentist. Most people just don't enjoy the process. But if you trust someone else to prepare your return for you, you could end up in much messier situation with the IRS.

The Government Accountability Office recently completed an undercover investigation. It found only 2 tax returns prepared by 19 different preparers were completed correctly. When that happens, the IRS holds you accountable.

"Every business is regulated," said Elizabeth Colvin with the United Way. "I mean, who cuts your hair is regulated, who does your nails is regulated; but your taxes- there's essentially no regulation."

It's true. There is no required training for tax preparers in Texas... no regulating agency.

The GAO study found out of 19 paid tax preparers it secretly shopped, 17 made errors that could lead taxpayers to underpay and expose them to IRS enforcement action. It caught the 19 preparers, some in different offices of the same chain, charging wildly different fees to prepare the same tax return.  Anyone can be a tax preparer, including those who work at big chains like H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax Service. 

If you're going to pay for tax prep, your best bet is to find a Certified Public Accountant; but if you make $53,000 a year or less, you don't have to pay at all. The IRS offers free help through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

Click here to find the VITA location closest to you for help.