With 9,000 pages, over 4 million words, and an average of one change per day, the tax code is one complex document to decipher. It’s no wonder over 84 million taxpayers will opt to use a paid tax preparer this tax season. Add in the changes from the new law, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, with a delay in the filing deadline and it’s not hard to understand why we seek professional help (in more ways than one)!
You want someone who is honest, certified and professional. So, how do you go about finding the right fit for you? Here are a few quick tips to get you started.
- Ask friends and family for referrals.
You quiz them on the best dentist or car dealership; why not ask them who they trust to do their taxes. Ask the people you trust around your office who they use and why they like them. Ask them, too, what they don’t like about them. Because every person has a different tax situation, the one thing they don’t like about their preparer (they talk taxes too much), you may be love about them (someone who explains my taxes to me).
- Check for legitimacy.
Sit down and have an interview with the tax preparer. Ask how long they have been in business and what sort of continuing education requirements they adhere to. Contact your state’s Better Business Bureau for complaints or actions taken against the tax preparer or business. A few simple questions can ensure the person you pay to do your taxes is legit.
- What are their office hours?
Be leery of a shop that is here today and closed tomorrow. The IRS can come calling months after you file your return. You need your tax preparer to be available to help answer questions in case you get married, purchase property, etc. Also, if you are ever audited a good tax preparer will walk you through the process. Due to these life changes, tax preparers should be open year round to field your tax issues.
- Ask about their fees.
Walk out if the tax preparer explains they charge based on the amount of your anticipated refund. This is a red flag because their motive may be to get you deductions you are not qualified for. The IRS has found that these institutions practice cutting corners or commit tax fraud.
Don’t be confused by fees ranging with more complex returns. A Form 1040 is a straight forward return and going to take less time to prepare so it won’t cost as much to prepare. However, a Form 1120 can cost more because it is more involved. It is not uncommon for fees to adjust depending on the complexity of your return.
- Go with your gut.
Finally, you should feel comfortable with your tax preparer. A professional tax preparer will return your phone calls and gladly answer any questions. Be patient though because tax time is pretty busy for them. A good tax preparer will tell you what forms you need to bring in and inform you which deductions you qualify for. You should never sign anything before it’s filled out. No one should ask you to sign blank tax forms (or any forms for that matter). If you’re not getting good service, get out.
In the end, you are legally responsible for the information on your tax return, so make sure you choose a tax preparer wisely.