Finding tax preparation services in California is about as difficult as finding a hamburger stand. Because there are so many available, what's really difficult is learning about their reliability and competence through word of mouth recommendations. One way of examining the credentials of any business is to look online for comments and reviews. Various organizations post frequently updated lists of professionals who have come under the scrutiny of governing bodies, noting disciplinary actions, lawsuits, etc.
It's okay to ask for references, review backgrounds, and inquire about experience. These are people who are going to be handling some of your most personal information. To verify a tax preparer's standing with the state of California, visit the California Tax Education Council's Website. They provide a search for a preparer's CTEC ID, which only takes a few moments.
Individuals who prepare federal or state tax returns in California, or assist in such preparation, must comply with the California Business and Professions Code, Section 22250-22259, by completing the required education, maintaining a $5000 tax preparer bond, and registering with the California Tax Education Council (CTEC).
All CTEC-registered tax preparers must renew their registrations annually by October 31, in order for them to prepare taxes, or assist in such preparation, for a fee. Individuals who have not complied with registration requirements by the due date are not permitted to prepare taxes for a fee. Delinquents are allowed to renew their registration within a one-year grace period by submitting an application reporting the required education and bond information. Registrations for those who don't renew within the one-year grace period expire. Former registrants will be required to complete a 60-hour qualifying education course, maintain a $5000 tax preparer bond, and register as a new preparer with CTEC, prior to preparing tax returns, or assisting in such preparation. The CTEC Website also provides information in Spanish about tax preparers for those preferring that language.
Above all, use common sense. If you walk into a storefront location that was deserted a week ago and the only warm bodies you see belong to kids taking a break from jumping up and down on the sidewalk out front wearing silly costumes and waving banners, you might want to choose a different tax-preparation service.