Q&A: This retiree’s tax preparer allowed IRS fines to accumulate for 15 years. Now what?

Dear Liz: I have a question about an unethical accountant. I am a retiree living on my investments. My accountant continually put me on extension and every October told me how much to pay. Finally, I created an account with the state tax agency and discovered I was being billed for interest, fees and penalties for failing to pay estimated quarterly taxes. What really gets me angry is how I was never told I needed to pay these taxes each quarter. This has been going on at least 15 years. What are my options? Is there an entity that governs the behavior of accountants?

Answer: There is — if your tax preparer is actually an accountant. Some tax preparers use that title even if they don’t have an accounting credential, said Henry Grzes, lead manager for tax practice and ethics with the American Institute of CPAs.

If your tax preparer is in fact a certified public accountant, then you can make a complaint to your state’s board of accountancy. You can find a list of boards here. Otherwise you can consider contacting the Better Business Bureau, your state’s consumer protection agency or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Grzes said.

A good tax preparer will alert clients to ways they can reduce their tax bill and will discuss the reasons for filing an extension as well as the need to make quarterly estimated payments, Grzes said. But there are no federal regulations governing tax return preparation, although some states have such laws, he said.

For example, anyone who is physically in California and prepares tax returns for a fee, and who is not an attorney, CPA or enrolled agent, is required to register with the California Tax Education Council, Grzes said. The CTEC site has information about how to file a complaint against a tax preparer who isn’t governed elsewhere.

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