Ten Questions to ask a Tax Preparer

There are approximately 100,000 paid tax preparers in the US, but not all are equal. With so many individuals and firms providing these services, it’s not necessarily hard to find a preparer, but it is to find a good preparer who is appropriate for your business and/or personal return. Because everyone’s situation is different, here are the top 10 questions to assess the quality of a prospective tax preparer.

  1. Do you specialize in the type of tax returns I require?  Why – Don’t hire a preparer with no experience in the tax returns you require. For example not many preparers specialize in non-profit returns. Find someone who specializes in what you need.
  2. How many years of experience do you have preparing returns?  Why – Make sure the person signing off on your return has at least five years experience.
  3. Are you a CPA or Enrolled Agent (EA) and are you registered to practice with the IRS under their new regulations? Why – CPA’s and EA’s are completely different. EA’s are licensed to practice in front of the IRS which can be valuable. CPA’s generally have a greater understanding of accounting and business as a whole. Make sure anyone you chose is registered with the IRS to be a paid tax preparer which is required starting in 2012. If a preparer brushes this issue off, keep looking.
  4. Do you have experience in IRS audit representation should one of my tax returns get audited? Why – If your return gets chosen for audit, you want to make sure the same person that prepares your taxes can handle your audit. This allows for efficiencies.
  5. What are the benefits of using your services rather than a self-preparer service such as TurboTax or a low-end service such as H&R Block. Why – TurboTax and H&R Block are great when you are lower income levels and have an otherwise easy return. But if you own your own business, have income from multiple sources, or have life changing financial events, the expertise of a CPA is advantageous. Most CPA’s can be a value added individual rather than just a simple service provider. CPA’s can also offer planning which will help to minimize your tax burden over the long-term. Lastly, remember that most big-name tax preparation services use seasonal employees. Thus year-to-year, you never see the same preparer which creates a lack of continuity.
  6. How will you make sure I get every tax benefit available for me?  Why – Make sure they have a system to catch as many benefits as possible.
  7. Does your company offer tax planning and will that be a benefit to me?  Why – Tax planning is a great way to minimize your tax burden through structured and planned actions. However, tax planning is not always necessary. Most companies and individuals don’t need quarterly tax planning but would benefit from tax planning once or twice a year. Unless you are a relatively large company or high-net worth individual, avoid firms that recommend tax planning quarterly as often times they just want to collect more fees than are necessary.
  8. Does your firm offer e-filing and how do you ensure the security and retention of my information?  Why – You want to ensure that you use a firm that is up to date with technological advances, which includes the latest in security protection. Firms that take this seriously are serious about keeping your business for the long-term. Investing in technology generally means they are investing in both your future and theirs.
  9. How responsive can I expect you to be if I have questions or require tax documents during the year?  Why – Look for preparers that will respond within 24 hours. However, be realistic; good preparers are usually flush with work during tax filing deadlines and often require a little extra time to respond. Be careful about a preparer that overpromises their responsiveness.
  10. Will my taxes be filed on time if I am able to provide you with my information in a timely manner before the applicable deadline?  Why – Make sure the preparer is committed to getting your taxes filed on time. However, remember that in order for the preparer to do their job, you need to get you information to them in a timely manner.

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