Hiring a Tax Pro – Three Essential Steps
There are many types of tax professionals who can help you. But picking the suitable type of tax preparer is the easy side of it. Finding the right person to do the job is what’s difficult.
If you’re thinking of hiring a professional tax preparer for the first time, or you’re planning to hire someone new because your current preparer is giving you issues, be guided by the following steps:
1. Get referrals.
Ask people for recommendations – surely, your friends, family and colleagues will have worked with a tax preparer themselves. If you are new in the area, ask for referrals from with the CPA society in your state, explore the Accreditation Council’s website, or use the National Association of Enrolled Agents’ enrolled agent search tool.
2. Interview potential agents.
Regardless of how busy they are, tax preparers should be able to find time for a a phone interview (usually 20 to 30 minutes). If they can’t give you that, or if they will charge you for the initial interview, find someone else.
During the interview, you should be able to cover the following:
You’ll want a tax preparer who has been in the business long enough to be able to handle IRS challenges and other potential problems.
The person you work with should be an Accredited Tax Adviser, a Certified Public Accountant or an Enrolled Agent. And keep in mind that the Personal Financial Specialist designation can only be given to a CPA. Check your state’s licensing board and professional associations to know whether the person you’re considering is licensed and in good standing, and has a clean disciplinary record.
This can be a crucial point if you have specific needs. If you’re a small business owner, for example, you need a tax preparer who knows business accounting. Or if you rent out properties as your business, look for somebody who has a lot of experience handling such tax situation.
See if you have to pay a fixed rate or if you will be charged by the hour, and whether you have to pay extra fees for certain services, like planning meetings over the entire year.
Single Practitioner vs. Firm
If the preparer you’re considering is part of a firm, ask whether they will double-check your returns once the associate has completed them.
Ask your prospective tax preparer if they will handle IRS issues. If the answer is no, look elsewhere. You certainly deserve someone who is willing to defend your case.
3. Watch out for warning signs.
Avoid anyone who plans to cheat the IRS. And finally, don’t hire them if they want a percentage of your refund as payment. Tax preparers should be paid a flat or hourly fee, period.