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GannettUSA Today

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Taxing time for preparers

It may be only a small sample, but tax preparers must be alarmed that all 19 forms distributed to big-name tax companies by the Government Acccountability Office about two hypothetical families were returned with errors. Only two of them had the correct refund amount, but even those had other errors. Talk about bad publicity about the most visible practitioners of a profession with 10 days to go before the tax filing deadline.

Some of the reported problems serve as cautionary tales for those who have yet to file their returns, either with help or by themselves: Side income was not reported in 10 of the 19 cases. The number of dependent children - a pretty basic matter - was overstated about half the time. The itemized deductions for the fictional family were incorrect. Child and dependent care credit went unclaimed for the fictional single-mother filer.

Tax preparers aren't in the business to make errors. Most know their craft and do it well. They face penalties for negligence or for willful or reckless disregard of tax rules. But the taxpayer has a role to play, too. The tax code isn't so complicated that some common-sense questions can't be asked and some old-fashioned math can't be applied to ensure accuracy. After all, the taxpayer signs off on that return.

Hey, tax preparers: Speak up for your profession. Oh, tax filers: any tax preparation horror stories out there?

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