It’s bad enough that you have to file a tax return. It’s even worse when your return has mistakes or other problems that come back to haunt you. The best way to prevent that is to pick a good tax preparer.

More on Taxes

If you have few itemized deductions, you don’t have your own business, and your finances seem straightforward, you may be able to handle your tax preparation yourself.

But if you’re like more than 60 percent of Americans who have their returns done for them, the IRS offers a search page where you can find a tax preparer that meets its qualifications.

The IRS has acknowledged that its free help for taxpayers could be limited this year, but there are other free options to consider. 

These are your basic tax-preparation choices:

• Certified public accountants. Not all CPAs specialize in completing individual income-tax returns, so you’ll have to ask. In addition to using the IRS’ tax-preparer search page, you can check with friends and neighbors or go to your state’s CPA society.

• Enrolled agents. Unlike CPAs, who can handle a variety of financial activities, enrolled agents focus solely on taxes. They must have worked for the IRS for at least five years or passed exams on tax codes and calculations. Enrolled agents might work for themselves or in a CPA firm or storefront office. The IRS tax-preparation search page can help you find one, or you can go to the website of the National Association of Enrolled Agents.

• National tax-preparation chains. Walk-in operations such as H&R BlockJackson Hewitt, and Liberty Tax Service may be adequate for simple, straightforward returns, and they’re relatively inexpensive. Keep in mind that national chains are less likely than independent preparers to hit you with “junk” fees, such as application and document-preparation charges, according to the National Consumer Law Center. Tax preparers at the national chains have usually taken and completed a course, and newcomers’ work is reviewed by experienced supervisors.

• Free tax preparation. If your household income was low to moderate for your community or you’re at least 50 years old, you might not have to pay anything for tax help. The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide service will pair you with trained volunteers who can handle Form 1040 and schedules A and B.