Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer
Verify the Preparer’s Credentials
There are a lot of people out there claiming to be a “tax professional.” However, just because someone hangs out a shingle and advertises tax prep services, it doesn’t mean they actually have the skill, education, and expertise to handle your return.
Check the Preparer’s Professional Record
You have to be able to trust your tax preparer. Afterall, he or she will know all about your finances and even have your Social Security number. And even if a preparer is credentialed, that doesn’t guarantee that he or she has a good professional reputation. That’s why it’s smart to check a preparer’s history before handing over your tax and financial documents.
Ask About Fees
As with any other service or product you buy, make sure you have a good idea of the costs ahead of time. Prices for tax return preparation can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, including the complexity of your return, where you live, and the preparer’s experience. That’s why it’s important to get a quote before settling on a preparer.
Watch for Problems After Selecting a Preparer
Your due diligence doesn’t end after you pick a preparer. Watch out for warnings signs that something isn’t quite right. If one of these red flags pop up, you should seriously consider switching to another preparer right away.
Report Problems to the IRS
If you do run into a dishonest tax preparer, you can report them to the IRS using Form 14157. If you suspect that a preparer filed or changed your return without your consent, file Form 14157-A.
How to Find a Tax Accountant
Review Their Qualifications
Wondering how to find a good tax accountant? Before you hand over your money to a tax advisor you should take a close look at the tax accountant’s qualifications. New IRS regulations require anyone who’s paid to prepare tax returns to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number or PTIN. You should steer clear of any tax preparer who doesn’t have this credential or refuses to disclose it to you.
Look Into Their History
Just because someone is professionally qualified to prepare your tax return doesn’t automatically make them the best person for the job. If they’ve got a questionable history, that’s something you want to know about up front.
Check Their Availability
Once tax season gets underway you’ll start to see tax prep providers pop up everywhere. While some of them may be affiliated with established companies that provide year-round services, others close up shop as soon as tax season ends. That can be a problem if you need to amend your return later on or you have tax questions.
How to Choose the Right Tax Preparer
Find out how the tax preparer handles auditsHopefully this will not be an issue in the future but it is better to be safe than sorry. Will the tax preparer answer questions from the IRS for you? How will the fee be calculated to do this or to fix any mistakes?
Will the tax preparer be available for questions after tax season? Some tax preparers are seasonal, which is not very helpful when you receive notices mid-year from the IRS for more information.
Find out when you will receive a copy of your tax return. It may not be immediately, but it should be within a reasonable amount of time.
Know exactly who will be preparing your return at a firm. Will you need to sign the return or will the tax preparer do so? Beware of a preparer who refuses to sign a tax return.
Make sure they can file returns electronically. In this day and age, this is a must.Refunds are faster and there are less errors.
Tips to Find a Good Tax Preparer
Favor a Tax Preparer With a Long View
Tax season officially ends April 15, but a good tax preparer will help plan for tax savings for this year, next year, and beyond, says Joseph Conroy, a certified financial planner at Synergy Financial Group in Towson, Md.
Ask for a Price Quote
Often, a tax preparer will say that he can’t tell you what he’ll charge until he determines which forms you’ll need. But you can try to pin down an answer by presenting the forms you completed last year or by asking for a list of fees for various types of tax help, Morris says.
Find a Preparer With Clients Like You
Ideally, you want a preparer with clients who are similar to you. That way, you’re more likely to get the best service for your particular needs.
Look for a Well-Established Pro
Ideally, it’s a good idea to find a preparer who has had at least seven to 10 years of experience, says Daniel Morris, a CPA and senior partner at Morris + D’Angelo, a CPA firm headquartered in Los Angeles. The reason: The more time a preparer has been working on tax returns, the more likely he is to have dealt with a tax situation similar to yours.
Check the Tax Preparer’s Credentials
Anyone with a preparer tax identification number can handle and file your taxes, but it’s best to find someone who also can handle audits, IRS collections, and appeals, says Ann-Marie Long, a CPA and tax manager at SKC & Co., a CPA firm based in Boonton Township, N.J. Only a certified public accountant or an enrolled agent—another type of tax professional—can represent you before the IRS in those situations, she notes.
Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer This Year
Ask about availability
Tax preparers tend to be pretty busy during tax season. Throw in the fact that many are still getting used to last year’s tax changes, and you might be hard-pressed to find someone who can hammer out your return on a whim. You have until April 15 to file your return this year, so if you find a tax preparer who can work with you, say, during the last week of March, that gives you a decent window to complete your taxes before the deadline.
Find out whether you’ll get audit support
You can be as honest with the IRS as possible and have the most meticulous tax preparer in the world, and sometimes, your return might get flagged for an audit nonetheless. Since that possibility always exists, one thing you should be sure to inquire about is whether the tax preparer you hire will provide audit support in the event you need it. As mentioned earlier, not all tax preparers are authorized to represent clients in IRS matters, so it pays to find someone who is.
Figure out what your fees will entail
Clearly, the drawback of hiring a tax preparer is having to pay for that service, but if you do your research, you might keep that cost manageable. The amount you’re charged will generally depend on how complicated your tax situation is and how many unique tax forms the professional you hire will need to prepare.
Check for the right qualifications
Tax preparers have varying levels of training and skills, so if you’re going to hire one, you might as well get your money’s worth. While a non-CPA accountant might technically be qualified to prepare your return, it often pays to hire an actual CPA or an enrolled agent (a federally licensed tax practitioner). Both CPAs and enrolled agents are authorized to represent clients in IRS matters, so if the need arises, that’s some nice protection to have.