As politicians complicate the tax code more each year, more Americans have a need for professional tax services. If you have lost confidence in preparing your own income taxes, wonder if your tax practitioner is best for you, or like to save money - read on.
As a former tax-man myself, I still choose to hire someone else to prepare mine and am happy for it. Here are considerations for choosing your tax practitioner:
First, spend time comparative shopping. If you have time to look around for the best deal on your favorite melons or laundry detergent, you surely can investigate options on high-quality tax services that might save you thousands in taxes paid.
Look for someone whose relationship will provide the right balance of objectivity and good communication. For example, using your mother-in-law to prepare your return might make your spouse happy, but be a disaster in the long run. When she sees proof of the insufficiency of your income to help provide for her child, will there ever be peace in your family again?
On the other extreme, CPAs and tax attorneys arent for everyone, either. They may be more objective than a relative, but dont guarantee more competence - only higher tax preparation fees. Yet, if your tax situation is more complicated than average (business or self-employment income, investments, etc.), a CPA firm or other financial experts may be better equipped to handle your needs than relatives or production-line companies such as H Bloch.
As a result, dont be afraid to many questions of potential accountants. Any tax preparer should be receptive to inquiries from you to help in your choice. You might want to call well before April 15th, though, as many tax practitioners are either comatose under their desks or relaxing on cruise ships by that magic date.
The most obvious question to ask is the cost of preparing your return and how returns are charged. Some tax preparers charge by the form, others by the hour. Finding the lowest price is not necessarily to your benefit, but prices can range widely for the same quality of tax service.
Find out when the tax preparers believe your return can be completed. Do they provide e-filing services to the IRS and state? Timing can be critical if you have a refund coming.
For example, my W2s, etc were provided to my tax preparer on January 26th of this year. This CPA firm completed my tax returns on February 8th, e-filed to the applicable government agencies, and the IRS wired my refund to my bank account on February 17th (for some reason, I enjoy keeping track of such details).
Wow, that was incredibly fast. Despite my tax situation being more complicated this year, only three weeks elapsed between the handing over of tax info to the CPA and spending my entire refund. Of course, now I can look forward to being broke for virtually all of 2006.
Also, consider asking about the tax experience and background of the person preparing your return. You may not want a rookie learning his or her ABCs on your tax return. Find out if the company processes taxes in-house or not. Hundreds of thousands of American tax returns are prepared in India and elsewhere - a growing trend. The out-sourcing of tax returns isnt necessarily a bad thing but could affect how easily you can follow-up with the preparer.
Avoid anyone who guarantees you a refund. Such assurances could mean fraudulent preparation or inadequate tax planning. Be careful of tax preparers who offer investments in swampland to help you spend your refund. Ideally, tax preparation professionals are independent of those who give you investment advice.
On the other hand, your tax preparer should give you tips on how to save tax dollars. For instance, they might point out that documenting business mileage may give you more deductions if not currently done. Preparers should pursue every tax break coming to you, nothing more.
Run from any accountant who offers to find illegal deductions for you or advises you how to hide money or deceive the IRS. If caught, you the taxpayer are liable, not necessarily the preparer.
Just to be sure, you might consider doing a search on the internet for court proceedings involving tax practitioners who may already have been accused or convicted of tax fraud. Ask your friends who they use for tax services and why.
Most tax professionals are honest and do a competent job. It can be taxing, though, to find the right one for you.