How to choose a tax professional? That is an individual decision, based on your needs and expectations. But here’s a quick checklist to guide you through the process.
Assess your needs.
1. If calculating your year-end tax liability requires only basic information (earned income reported on W-2 forms, mortgage interest, and property taxes) and you are not seeking financial and / or planning guidance, then a national tax company such as H&R Block or Jackson Hewlett can meet the requirements.
These people do a good job with basic situations. Companies like these use part-time staff with good basic training. However, most do not have the in-depth knowledge necessary to obtain more complex returns. And if you think you will need a tax advisor after April 15, don’t look for your preparer, as these companies typically don’t keep their part-time staff on staff after tax season. While someone in your main office can answer your question, they will not personally know you or your situation.
These companies generally hire tax preparers for the season, not necessarily professionals. However, as a member of one of the national firms, these tax preparers have the advantage of supervision and access to the most skilled professionals in the firm.
You may want to steer clear of the many local part-time stores that open seasonally. These preparers may not have professional accounting or supervisory experience. The state of Florida does not require a paid tax preparer to have any kind of tax experience or accounting knowledge. State and local governments do not evaluate tax preparers.
2. Are you an independent worker? Do you have investment income, own rental property? Are you part of a limited partnership, do you own S corporation shares? Do you have capital gains or capital losses? Did you take money out of a pension or annuity? Did you receive foreign income? Do you have a casualty loss or investment expense? Will your return show more than just wages, mortgage interest, and property taxes? Want help with tax planning and financial guidance? Then you should seek out a tax professional.
Choosing a professional.
There are three types of tax professionals. The following descriptions will help you determine which type is best for you.
1. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are licensed by the Florida State Board of Accountancy. They are tested on accounting, auditing, and tax knowledge and must meet continuing education requirements established by the state board. These professionals can represent you before the Internal Revenue Service and can practice only in the states where they are licensed.
2. Attorneys can represent you before the Internal Revenue Service, but not all attorneys have the extensive knowledge necessary to prepare a complex return. However, if you have a problem related to fraud or a criminal matter, this may be the best place to start. When looking for an attorney to help you with tax matters, look for a Board certified tax attorney. These attorneys have the knowledge and experience to help you with complex matters.
3. Registered Agents (EA) are professionals who have demonstrated technical competence in the field of taxation. Registered agents can represent taxpayers before all administrative levels of the Internal Revenue Service. Of the three types of professionals, only Enrolled Agents must demonstrate their tax competence to the IRS before they can represent a taxpayer before the IRS. Unlike attorneys and public accountants, who may or may not choose to specialize in tax, all EAs specialize in tax. EAs are the only taxpayer representatives who receive their right to practice from the United States government.
What to expect from your tax professional.
1. You should interview the professional before hiring his firm. Be sure to ask if they are willing to spend time with you each year or will they just want you to turn over your papers. The latter will not help you pay as little tax as possible.
2. To get the most out of your tax professionals, you need to know them, and more importantly, they need to know you. This will not happen if you simply turn in your papers and then collect a complete statement.
3. If you knew all the nuances and regulations of tax law, you wouldn’t need a professional. An annual meeting with your professional ensures that you have not overlooked something. You should meet with your provider every year to review your situation and any changes that may have occurred in your life. A good tax professional will use this time to help you discover deductions you may have missed and to help you take advantage of possible tax strategies for the coming year.
Four. Find a professional with a process to help you identify the deductions to which you are entitled. Your tax professional should have a checklist to make sure you cover everything when they meet with you and complete your return. (I’ve done thousands of tax returns over the years and still run my checklist at every client meeting and at every stage of every return.)
5. Your tax professional should be available year-round to answer your questions and respond to any correspondence you may receive from the IRS. Find out what the tax professional’s policy is regarding fees. Is there an extra charge for this service or is it included in the setup fee?
6. If your return is audited, the tax professional must be willing to represent you before the IRS. This must be done with a power of attorney and you should not have to attend the audit. (If a tax professional tells you that your returns are never audited, he or she is working harder for the IRS than for you, or is not telling the truth.)
7. Some professionals charge to represent clients before the IRS. Others include the service in their setup fee. Our firm’s policy is to support our work; We will defend any return that we have prepared for the taxpayer at no additional cost.
8. Will the professional meet with you before the end of each year to help you with tax planning? Do you charge extra for this service? Our firm has found your country to provide free planning throughout the year. This policy encourages customers to call us before concerns turn into problems. It allows us to help clients make good decisions and save money.
9. Your practitioner should know what it takes to complete most statements after meeting with you and reviewing your situation and documents. It is always best to know the cost before giving the go-ahead. However, don’t expect to get a fair estimate of costs over the phone. Make an appointment to meet in person with the tax professional. Your tax professional should put your fees in writing; avoid any misunderstandings later. If the professional charges by the hour, request a quote for the maximum amount. If they can’t provide that, leave and go somewhere else.
10. Make sure you can reach your tax professional when you need to. Is a living person answering the phone? How do they answer calls? You don’t want to speak to voicemail if you get a notice from the IRS or have a question.
eleven. Does your professional have office hours throughout the year? Offer appointment times that fit your schedule? Do you offer night or weekend hours?
12. Do they have a good reputation in the community? What do other clients and entrepreneurs say about the firm?
13. Is the office neat and orderly? You don’t want to leave your information to people who can’t keep track of what they have and where it is. You don’t want your mess to get lost in its mess.
14. Do they seem overwhelmed? Tax season is a very busy time for all professionals, but a good professional in a well-run office doesn’t look like he’s going to kill you. The last thing you want to do is hand over your work to someone who seems like there is more than they can handle. Ask when you can expect to receive your completed tax return. Most returns should take no more than two weeks to complete.