How to Find the Tax Professional for You
Tax season is stressful; nobody can deny that. However, it can be made easier with the help of an accountant or professional tax preparer. According to the IRS, 60% of taxpayers utilize tax preparation services from a certified tax professional. Having a professional prepare your individual taxes can make tax time less stressful, but you need to find the right fit for you.
There are two designations you will often see when searching for a tax preparer.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA): These individuals have passed the CPA exam in the state where they work. Some specialize in tax accounting and are also able to represent you if the IRS audits you.
Enrolled Agent (EA): An EA has passed a comprehensive test from the IRS which covers both individual and business tax returns. They can represent taxpayers before the IRS in cases of audits, collections, and appeals. Some Enrolled Agents have earned the designation through their experience as a former IRS employee.
There are plenty of tools on the web that will help you find preparers in your area. Google and Yelp are good places to start and will have reviews. TaxBuzz.com is also another good resource. You can also ask friends for referrals to preparers they have worked with in the past. All tax preparers must have a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) and the IRS compiles a directory of these preparers. Anyone can apply for a PTIN, so understanding the credentials outlined above helps you get an idea of their skills and expertise.
After you’ve gathered a short list of two or three potential preparers, schedule an interview so you can learn more about them. You should be prepared to provide last year’s return so they can assess your tax situation and you should inform them of any life changes you may have experienced in the last year that could affect your taxes, (marriage, divorce, or a home purchase are just a few examples). Some other questions you may want to ask:
How much experience do you have?
Do you have any specialties?
How do you bill? Is it a flat fee or an hourly rate?
When meeting with your potential tax preparer, you want to be comfortable communicating with each other. Many people are forgoing in-person meetings currently, but do you feel comfortable speaking with them via video conferencing? Do you prefer phone calls over emails or texts? You want to be sure that you and your tax preparer communicate in a way that is efficient for both of you.
Once you’ve chosen your tax preparer, make your appointment as soon as possible to start the process. Gather your documents for your initial appointment. Common documents include:
Copies of your ID and Social Security cards.
Original copies of any W-2 forms and/or Form 1099-MISC.
Form 1099-INT or Form 1099-DIV if you have and interest and/or dividends paid to you from financial institutions.
Form 1099-B reports any proceeds from stocks or mutual fund sales.
Taxpayers who are receiving retirement income should have a 1099-R from each payer and/or a Form 1099-SSA from the Social Security Administration.
Form 1099-G for unemployment compensation
If you have a mortgage, you should have received Form 1098 from your mortgage company to document potentially deductible mortgage interest.
Receipts documenting any charitable contributions.
Depending on your individual tax situation there may be more documents you’ll be asked to provide.
Hiring the right accountant or tax preparer doesn’t have to be hard, you just may need to put in some legwork first to find the right fit for you. To make the best use of both your and your tax preparer’s time, gather all the information you will need and make a list of questions to ask. Remember, the earlier you start, the smoother the process will be. We hope that De Novo Tax & Advisors will make it to your short list, and invite you to reach out to learn more about how we may be of service to you!