Find a Tax Accountant
Tax season is dreaded by so many simply because it can feel overwhelming.
The sheer number of forms and worksheets is enough to drive you straight into the office of a Certified Public Accountant. But, how do you know whom to trust?
First, ask around among your friends and co-workers. A referral from someone you know can certainly point you in the right direction of someone you might trust. If you get luck and get a good referral, be sure to ask them the questions below to ensure a good match.
Who does taxes?
Two types of professionals are well-qualified to help you with your taxes, whether you have one hundred dollars or one million:
- Enrolled Agents (EAs) are tax professionals who have passed a rigorous test and background check administered by the IRS, many of them have even worked for the IRS. Enrolled agents may specialize in specific tax areas, so be sure to ask what his or her area of expertise is. Find an Enrolled Agent at the National Association of Enrolled Agents.
- Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are accountants who have passed the rigorous CPA Exam and are licensed by the state they work in. CPAs will specialize in a specific area, such as audits, tax, or business consulting. Not all CPAs handle tax issues. To find a CPA, check with friends or go to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants website.
Questions to Ask a Before you Hire a Tax Professional
When you hire someone to help you with your taxes you want to know that they have experience in the type of financials that you will bring them. You’ll want to choose wisely, because even if someone else prepares your taxes, you are still legally liable for its contents. Never sign a document without reviewing it fully and understanding what a professional has done for you.
Here are some questions you can ask to help ensure you find an experienced, trustworthy tax accountant:
- What licenses or designations do you have?
- How long have you been in the tax business?
- What tax issues do you specialize in?
- Do you have the knowledge and experience to handle my tax situation?
- What are your fees?
- What happens if my return is audited?
- What is your process? How often will we meet and how often can I call you?
- Do you outsource any of your work? Do you perform the work personally? If not, what is the review process? Who signs the returns?
- How long, approximately, will it take to finish my taxes?
- Do you have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). (The government requires all paid preparers to have one.)
Once you’ve found a preparer that tickes all the boxes, don’t forget to verify their credentials. Check them out with Better Business Bureau, the PA State Board of Accountancy Consumer Information (for CPAs) or the IRS Office of Enrollment for Enrolled Agents.
Next, check their references to be sure that the person you choose is reliable, returns calls in a reasonable time, answers your questions with minimal jargon, etc.
The IRS also advises:
- Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can. Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
- Ask to e-file your return. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically. IRS has safely processed more than 1.2 billion e-filed tax returns.
- Make sure the preparer is available. Make sure you’ll be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions come up about your tax return.
- Provide records and receipts. Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask you questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
- Never sign a blank return. Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign a blank tax form.
- Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).And, finally, make sure that you are compatible with this person. You do not want someone who may be too aggressive or intimidating. You want someone that you feel you can trust and that will do their best to not only do your taxes, but provide advice for the upcoming year, where applicable.
Need to know what to take to the accountant’s office? Check out our Tax Tracker.