There are over 1.2 million tax preparers in the United States, so finding someone to do you taxes should be easy. The problem is that not all tax preparers are created equal. They range from generalists brought in off the street and trained to use basic tax software, to expert Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) or Enrolled Agents (EAs) that are highly trained, but a more costly. Whichever direction you go, there are five questions you need to as
What are their professional certifications and licenses?
Tax preparers come in all shapes and sizes. If your tax return is simple – a few itemized deductions and a donation or two, then their qualifications need not be to grand, but if you have complex tax issues, then you better make sure their credentials are exemplary. CPAs, EAs and a Master’s Degree in Taxation are all available in the tax world depending on what you need.
What is their experience?
A tax preparer sees a lot of things over the years, but the fact is tax preparation is one part Q and A and one part creative thinking. Getting the latter correct can mean the difference between getting all the tax deductions that you are entitled to and leaving money on the table.
What are their specialties?
Great tax preparers known a very specific part of the tax law, but they know it better than just about anyone else. Avoid generalists if you have complicated tax issues.
What do they charge?
There is not standard fee for tax preparers, and you should pay for good service, but knowing what you’re going to pay before your tax return is complete is important so that there are no surprises later. They will typically give you a range (also assume the high end), but you should run, not walk, from a tax preparer who won’t give you a very specific estimate.
Who completes your return?
We can’t tell you how many times we have heard of a tax payer hiring the partner of the firm, only to get the associate. As the question, you’ll be glad you did.
Will they represent you in front of the IRS?
Less than 1% of returns get audited, but you need to know who has your back if times get tough. If they won’t represent you then they aren’t backing themselves. This is not your accountant.
These questions are not all inclusive of course, but they do form a foundation to find the best tax accountant for you needs. When you consider the question, how to hire a tax accountant, remember that it’s your needs, not just their credentials, that matter. You don’t want to overpay for expertise you don’t need, but don’t want to skimp – a good tax accountant will prevent you from pay more taxes that you have to.