Tax season is an exciting time for most of us, but it can be stressful and confusing if you don't know exactly what you're doing. Why should I hire a tax professional? Because they've done this many times before. They know exactly what to look for. Tax professionals are also familiar with the latest tax breaks and work with the deductions that may apply to you, which can save you money and stress in the long run.
They know the best deductions and can save you money – money that's better spent on "fun" things like vacations, family time, and gifts. Tax season doesn't have to be confusing.
For most people, doing taxes is a trivial task. It can be done easily and accurately as long as you have the right tools. However, when your personal or business tax situation becomes more complicated, you should hire a tax professional to assist you. Any time that your tax situation is complex or you are unable to find the information that you need because of poorly written laws, it is likely best to hire someone with experience to prepare your taxes.
Why Hire a Tax Professional?
What could you gain by hiring a tax professional? Is it worth it to pay the fees? These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to hire an accountant. The more questions you ask, the easier it is for you to decide whether or not hiring one is the best option for you. But remember, this decision depends a lot on your current financial situation. Are there other reasons why you should hire one?
Hiring a tax professional is a big step, but this guide of the twenty steps to hiring the right tax pro can simplify and demystify the process. By knowing what questions to ask, you can zero in on a candidate who will provide a high-quality experience that gets you back to work quicker.
Related Article: What To Ask Before Hiring a Financial Advisor
What Kind of Clients Do You Work With?
A tax professional should have experience with your type of business. [Tax professional's] with extensive experience working with businesses like yours, are more likely to be able to provide you with the service that you should receive. By asking about their clientele, you can better determine if they are a good fit before committing to hiring them. A good piece of advice that you will want to consider and keep in mind is to make sure that the tax professional is comfortable with preparing returns for your type of business.
What is Your Experience with IRS?
A Tax professional who is also a state licensed Enrolled agent is a tax professional that can represent clients before the IRS in Court as well as represent them in front of the IRS Appeals. This is helpful if the client has been audited by the IRS or owes back taxes. Generally, non-enrolled agents cannot represent their clients in these circumstances since they do not have Enrolled Agent status. By representing their clients in these cases, they are saving the client money since they are not paying to have a Certified Public Accountant represent them before the IRS.
The last thing you want to do is pay a tax preparer handsomely to make a mistake on your taxes. A qualified tax professional will know the most complex federal tax laws, will have experience with IRS in the USA and can complete your return accurately and fast.
Are you Available when I need you?
To get some tax help, you need to have an actual conversation with someone. Someone who can be available when you need information or advice. As a potential client, you expect your tax return prepared by your professional to be accurate and timely. When you need routine information or advice, you want a reliable professional who will meet with you either in person or online at a time that's convenient for you. You also want questions answered quickly by email, if necessary. And if you have more complex tax needs, like preparing a business, an estate, or an individual income tax return, then a professional who is accessible should be your top priority.
Will it be you or someone else in your office? Who will prepare my return?
It is often the case that a tax professional will outsource some of their work to a third party. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are bad at doing the work themselves, but as this is a relatively common thing, you need to be sure that they are up front with you about who is doing the actual work or how it can be done. If you ask them at the beginning of your relationship you may even find that they will do it themselves!
What are your rates?
Whether you decide to hire an accountant on a retainer basis or ask for an hourly rate, settle on a fee that suits your needs and are most comfortable with. How will the accountant's fee be calculated? Provide a copy of your previous year's tax returns so that the accountant can be familiar and provide you with a more accurate price quote. If you're using an accountant who charges by the hour, find out if he or she offers a flat rate.
How do you communicate about tax issues?
It is essential that taxpayers work diligently with an accountant to determine the appropriate way to file. For many people, this may be their first time working with a professional accountant, which makes choosing the right one even more important. Ask about a prospective accountant's approach and be sure you're satisfied with the degree of communication and follow-up during the tax preparation process.
Can you handle working with multiple entities?
Have more than one business entity under your name? Hire a tax professional who can handle multiple entities at once. With the complexities of overlapping liabilities and corporate structures, these skills are not commonplace among all accountants. When making the decision to hire a tax professional, don't make the mistake of assuming all accountants are created equal. A tax professional's résumé shows what they've accomplished, but their bio can reveal critical information about how they work and what skills set they bring to your table.
What is your philosophy?
Hiring an accountant that agrees with your philosophy and approach is the key to a relationship based on trust and one of mutual respect. Selecting a tax accountant is not so much reliant on credentials, but philosophy and beliefs. You may find that the most credentialed tax accountant will be the worst for your situation. An accountant who believes in an aggressive philosophy may charge you more than another less qualified accountant who can find legal ways to minimize your tax exposure. The question to ask yourself when interviewing your potential accountant is whether or not they believe in your particular accounting goals, especially aggressively minimizing taxable income.
Do you understand the medical expense reimbursement plan?
If you collect medical bills, make sure your tax professional knows about the Archer MSA, a medical reimbursement plan that allows you to deduct medical expenses from your adjusted gross income. Accountants who are unfamiliar with this plan may not be able to help you get the greatest tax benefit. Ask before hiring an accountant whether or not his or her firm is familiar with this valuable way to save on taxes.
What tax program are you using?
A tax program helps a tax professional perform their services, but it shouldn't be the deciding factor when you choose an accountant. A good accountant will know which programs are best for them, while a great one will work in both programs and advise you about which to use. When looking for an accountant ask them about their program preferences. Ask about the steps they take to prevent duplicate taxes, what documents and photos they maintain, and how tax audit help is offered. Ultimately, your goals matter more than software when choosing between individual and business accountants who run their practice themselves or have employees.
Do you have a PTIN (preparer tax identification number)?
The PTIN identifies tax professionals who are permitted to prepare federal and state income tax returns. A PTIN signifies that an individual is authorized to prepare federal and state income tax returns. This authorization comes only from the IRS, which issues the Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Any MPRO (member of the taxpayer’s alliance) can request a PTIN. A tax pro with a PTIN will have met all the requirements and undergone an in-depth background check to ensure that the public is protected against unqualified tax.
What is Your Education Background?
Ask about the qualifications and experience of the tax professional you are considering working with. The IRS recommends that taxpayers choose a "competent" tax preparer. A competent tax professional should not only have earned at least a four-year college degree, but he or she must also have successfully completed specialized training in taxation and passed all requirements necessary to become certified by the IRS. Tax law changes frequently, and having an expert who is able to interpret these changes in your favor is a huge benefit. Make sure any accountant or tax preparer you hire has recertified their skills through tuition assistance courses, continuing education classes, and professional development programs.
Do you understand the requirements of the localities and states where I am supposed to file?
The state and local tax requirements of each locale are different. A tax professional should have detailed knowledge of the states and localities where you are required to file your tax returns. It's key to understand how you're supposed to file in your home state, as well as how to navigate taxes in any place where you reside or work. The right tax professional will understand the variations, and be able to set up a client's taxes properly. Issues such as deductions and exemptions, refunds and penalties, federal returns, state returns, local returns, late-filing fines and penalties, interest rates and interest calculations.
What documents will you require from me?
A reputable tax preparer will ask you questions and request documentation to verify your income, exemptions, childcare expenses, education credits, retirement plan contributions, etc. He or she should also make sure that your return is correct by examining your forms W-2 and 1099 (and other types of verification). This information is important in order to prepare a proper tax return. They should not accept any monetary payment in advance of having all the information they need to do your taxes.
What happens if I get audited?
A client will want to know whether he or she can trust the tax preparer, especially after learning that the IRS has initiated its audit process. Do not hire a tax preparer unless you are confident that he or she will represent your interests before the IRS or at court. Find out how the preparer handles audits or examinations and what it will cost to fix mistakes. This is not just a question of money: you need to know if the preparer can help you with any problems that may arise.
Do you meet with clients in person, on the phone?
A tax professional who meets with clients in person can better understand their tax situation and guide them through the process. In comparison, a tax professional who can offer assistance only over the phone or via video calls may not be able to provide the same range of services due to geography or practicality. When choosing a tax professional, ask yourself how much you want to have to rely on them to do your taxes. Do you want to be able to meet with them in person? Do you have complicated tax situations that require face-to-face interaction? Or are you more comfortable doing things via phone or video conferencing, and not having very much contact at all?
Do you have any previous or current clients that I could reach out to?
Whenever you hire a professional for any service you should always check their references. Some professions have a board or organization that allows the former clients to review and recommend, while others, like those in the tax industry, are not regulated enough for this to be a standard practice. Taxpayers are perfectly within their rights to ask potential tax experts about their previous and current clients and whether they would be willing to provide references.
What makes you different from other tax accountants?
If you are considering hiring a tax accountant, it is important to ask yourself what makes this professional different from the other professionals in this field?
Is the tax professional up-to-date on all of the new laws and regulations concerning taxes? Does your tax professional specialize in helping businesses or individuals with their taxes, or both? The tax professional listens. The tax professional works with you to understand your needs. The tax professional is both a trusted advisor and a knowledgeable expert. Whether you are an individual or a small business, the tax professional will listen, work with you on your specific goals, and then provide you with expert advice to help you reach your goals and minimize your taxes.
Are you a member of any professional tax or accounting organizations?
Many clients want to know if their professional needs to be a member of any professional tax or accounting organizations. They believe that only those who have "paid their dues" are qualified. Tax professionals do not have to be members of any professional tax or accounting organizations. However, by joining a national professional tax association, they will be receiving updated information on the tax code. This can help the tax professional stay up-to offer on current changes in the tax laws as well as potential loopholes that could affect their client's taxes.
Are you bonded or insured?
When interviewing a prospective tax professional to represent you in a matter relating to IRS, ask if they are bonded and insured. A tax professional generally needs to have some form of insurance or a professional license in order to represent clients. A license allows people in the industry to hold themselves to a higher standard of education and ethics. Bonding is even more important since it is a sign of accountability. Bonding ensures that your money will be protected from irresponsibility. You'll find that most financial planners require some sort of insurance or bonding, as it is a means for proving their credibility with you and protecting your assets.
Hiring a tax professional is one of the best ways to ensure that your taxes are done correctly and on time. And you can hire a tax professional that works with your specific financial situation, whether you own a business or rental property, have investments, complicated stock options or passive losses, investments in real estate or foreign financial accounts, charitable giving or education expenses. A good relationship with a tax professional can mean the difference between a thriving business and sleepless nights. When hiring an accountant, ask about their approach and get their opinion on different accounting methods to ensure that they'll be comfortable working with your type of business.
For more tax advice you can listen to our episode on the Rich State of Mind Podcast:
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