Linda Geist

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Exercise caution if you pay someone to do your taxes, says University of Missouri Extension personal finance specialist Andrew Zumwalt.

Most tax return preparers are professional and honest, but not all, he says.

Beware of preparers who offer high-cost services or arrange refund anticipation loans that reduce refunds. Refund anticipation loans are a costly way to borrow your own money for a few days.

Additionally, it’s not wise to commit to spending money that you don’t have in hand, Zumwalt says. You may end up owing more than you can repay if there is a mistake on your refund amount,

Take the time to find a qualified tax professional. As a taxpayer, you are responsible for everything on your return regardless of who prepares it. Many low- and moderate-income filers can get free tax preparation at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites across the state. Check with your local MU Extension office for locations.

Zumwalt offers the following tips to choose a preparer to best meet your tax preparation needs.

-Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who claim they can get larger refunds than others. Stay away from those who guarantee results or base fees on a percentage of the refund. Ask in advance what the total amount will be.

-Ask how long it will take to prepare your refund.

-Ask if the preparer files returns electronically.

-Ask if the preparer will assist with any IRS inquiries about the refund. If so, will there be a charge?

-Choose a preparer you will be able to reach after the return is filed. Some preparers only operate during the tax season.

For more tips from MU Extension on choosing a tax preparer, go to