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How To Find a Tax Preparer

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Finding a tax preprarer to prepare and to file your taxes is a relatively straightforward process.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 1-2 hours

Here's How:

  1. Ask yourself why you need a tax preparer. There are four basic needs for tax preparation services: speed, accuracy, creating a customized tax strategy, and managing a complex tax situation with accuracy and professionalism.

  2. If having your taxes done quickly is most important, you should go to one of the nationwide tax franchises, such as H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt or Liberty Tax Service. Employees at these companies are trained to get your taxes done quickly. However, every year I hear from readers who were dissatisfied at the level of accuracy and professionalism they encountered. Tip: Be sure to ask if your preparer is an enrolled agent, CPA, or has received advanced tax training.

  3. If creating a tax plan for your future is most important, you should seek out the advice of a licensed tax professional, such as a Certified Public Accountant or an Enrolled Agent. These are highly-trained tax professionals who specialize in helping their clients pay the least tax possible.

  4. If handling a complex tax situation is most important, you should find an accountant who specializes in your situation. Special circumstances include living outside the United States, day trading in the stock market, owning a small business, resolving an IRS audit, filing back taxes, or trying to settle your tax debts. All tax professionals specialize. Find a CPA or EA who has the experience, knowledge, and skills that you need.

  5. Everyone wants their tax returns to be accurate. All tax professionals, even those at national franchises, should guarantee the accuracy of their work. If you have a particularly complicated tax situation, you should see a tax professional with substantial experience to help you. Some franchises will try to sell you an enhanced guarantee to cover additional taxes and penalties in case of an audit. This is practically a guaranteed profit for the franchise.

  6. Call around to a couple of tax offices to ask about their prices and how quickly you can schedule an appointment.

  7. Ask what their price range is. Prices for tax preparation will vary depending on how complex your tax return is. Some professionals charge by the hour, or by how many tax forms you need to fill out, or even a flat fee for all work.

  8. Ask about any guarantees the tax preparer offers. The tax preparer should be willing to guarantee the accuracy of the returns, be willing to amend the tax return if there was a mistake in the tax prep, and be willing to assist you in an IRS audit.

Tips:

  1. A CPA is a professional accountant licensed by the state. Certified Public Accountants are highly trained in corporate and business accounting, audits, and business consulting. Some CPAs also specialize in personal financial planner and have earned the Personal Financial Specialist ("PFS") designation.

  2. An Enrolled Agent is a tax professional whose credentials are issued by the Internal Revenue Service after passing a competency examination and a background check. Both CPAs and enrolled agents are required to take continuing education in tax and accounting subjects.

  3. A Tax Preparer may be registered by the state. Best for straightforward tax returns.

  4. The national Tax Franchises are H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and Liberty Tax. Offices nationwide. Often fast, courteous, and convenient. But some employees will be less trained than others. Be sure to ask for a senior-level tax preparer.

  5. Schedule your appointment well in advance.

What You Need

  • All your tax documents
  • Photo identification
  • Social Security Cards for yourself and your dependents
  • Checkbook for direct deposit of your refund
  • Copy of last year's tax return
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