It’s that time of year again when taxes are front and center in our minds. With any luck you’re motivated to get that tax return filed to get your refund pronto, but that’s not always the case. If you’re considering hiring a tax preparer for the first time or looking to find a new tax preparer, here are some questions to help you find the right tax professional to suit your needs.
HOW IS YOUR FIRM STRUCTURED?
Understanding a little more about the way your tax preparer operates his or her business is important to understanding if that firm is right for you. Ask about the size of the firm. Larger firms may offer a full range of specialized services, but are less likely to provide a lot of personalized support. On the other hand, a smaller firm may not offer as many services, but the individualized attention you may receive tends to be greater. Along those lines, you want to know how many people work at that firm and who you will be interacting with as well as who will actually be preparing your tax return. Often in larger firms, the person you meet with for your prospective client meeting will not actually be the person you interact with once your sign on for those services. It’s important that you know who you will be interacting with and make sure you are comfortable asking them candid questions. A good tax professional will be a good educator as well, so if you aren’t feeling you’re getting answers to the questions you have, it might be a smart idea to look elsewhere for a tax preparer.
WHAT SERVICES DO YOU OFFER?
For the average person with an individual tax return that needs to be prepared, this may not be a concern. However, if you’re looking for additional services this is an important question to ask. Think down the road. If you think you may want to start a side hustle in the future, you may be looking for someone that has experience preparing business tax returns or who can help you incorporate if you choose to go that route. Maybe you’re looking for some help with estate planning. Larger firms may offer all these services in house, while smaller firms might have arrangements with other specialized firms to fulfill your needs, so knowing what you need is important.
CAN I REACH YOU ON A REGULAR BASIS?
This question doesn’t so much mean, “can I call you at 2am on a Saturday morning?” Instead, it means will that tax preparer be available even after tax season? A lot of tax preparers tend to disappear after their busy season is over, and that can be a problem when it comes to answering audit requests from the IRS and more. Make sure your tax preparer is available year round.
WHAT ARE YOUR CREDENTIALS?
Here’s a surprising fact that not everyone knows. To be considered a tax preparer, you don’t have to have any professional training. In fact it’s a hotly contested point, because your car dealer could literally register to prepare your tax return to help direct your refund towards the purchase of a new car. That means that an individual that may have no knowledge of taxes beyond what you know, can hold him or herself out as a tax preparer.
To avoid getting sucked into this kind of trap, look for a tax preparer that is either a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or at the very least an Enrolled Agent (EA). Both of these certifications require examinations and continuing education to maintain their licenses. This equates to regular classes dealing with changes in the tax laws as well as ethical certifications in some states. Also make sure you check here to see if your CPA has an active license with no complaints against him or her. In addition to those certifications, you should ask about years of experience and advanced degrees. Obviously several years of experience is a huge plus, and holding a degree such as a Masters in Taxation will ensure that your tax preparer has the analytical and research skills necessary to keep up with the new and changing tax laws.
HOW MUCH DO YOU CHARGE?
No one likes to talk about money, but when you’re paying for tax preparation services it’s important to ask. Most of the time, it will be impossible for a tax professional to give you a price quote without some additional information from you. Bringing your prior year tax return along can help the tax professional to develop a quote as well as any additional information or changes for the current tax year that might change the complexity of the tax work. If, for instance, you lived in one state and worked in another, your quote may be higher since two state returns may need to be prepared. No matter where you end up on price, make sure you get it in writing. Your tax preparer should have you sign an engagement letter detailing the amount of the quote and any additional fees. These may include electronic filing fees and fees for having to chase you down for more information. Read the contract carefully and remember that the more organized and proactive you are in getting your information to your tax preparer, the lower your bill will likely be.
AND NOW FOR A BIT OF NEWS…
And on that note I want to take the time to officially announce that Budget Babble is now offering tax services! This move was a long time coming since personal finance and business finance are so intertwined with the tax laws and regulations these days. Marrying these offerings together will give our clients the best understanding of how to tackle your finances and reach your financial goals. Tax preparation can be more than just a chore!
To learn more about our tax services and pricing, click here.
Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook
Lindsay Dell Cook is a CPA, finance writer, and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband and adorable daughter. When she's not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, taking their lovable mutt for walks, or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.