Ever-changing tax laws and confusing deductions are just two reasons why you need to pick the right tax preparer. If a professional is involved, you can feel more confident that you’re doing it right and you won’t face an audit anytime soon.
Where to Begin?
Before you just go with your friend’s accountant, consider your options and know this: you’re legally responsible for every piece of information on your tax return, no matter who completes the paperwork. You need to feel 100% comfortable with providing your personal information, financial data, and social security number.
Find a Qualified Professional
- Certified Public Accountants - A CPA is an accounting professional who has met licensing criteria and passed a professional qualifying exam for your state. CPAs are allowed to represent you in the event of an IRS audit or other conflict. Questions to ask: Do you prepare individual returns? Do you take continuing education classes? What are your fees?
- Tax Attorneys - If you’re in a unique situation, such as a tax dispute, audit scenario, or need a complex tax shelter, then a tax attorney is the right resource for you. However, this is an expensive option. Questions to ask: What is your specialty? How much do you charge?
- Enrolled Agents - An EA has passed an exhaustive exam and received a license from the IRS. Although an EA is less expensive than a CPA, be certain the specialty is in the area you need. Questions to ask: What is your focus? What are your tax preparation fees?
- Voluntary Annual Filing Season Tax Preparers - The IRS allows people to get certified for tax preparation by completing a specified curriculum. Questions to ask: What’s your experience? Do you have references? How much do you charge?
- PTIN Holders - Some tax preparers don’t maintain a professional license or participate in the Annual Filing Season Program, but they have an active preparer tax identification number through the IRS. As long as this number is active, it’s legal for them to prepare tax returns. Questions to ask: What is your tax preparation background? How long have you been in business? What fees do you charge?
The Internet is Your Friend
Once you’ve identified a potential tax preparer, use online resources like the IRS’s website, your state’s Bar Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy to make sure your provider is listed and doesn’t have any disciplinary actions or license issues.