It might seem silly that I’d send out an email to you about how to choose the right tax preparer, but think about it like this:
My team and I have nothing to hide AND, more importantly, we’d rather work with informed clients that choose to work with us rather than clients who might feel trapped with us.
At the same time, there are plenty of reasons that you may find yourself looking for a new tax team – you’ve moved, you’re retired or sold your business and don’t need a big firm to handle your accounts, or maybe you’re just wanting to be “sure” your CPA is the right one for you.
Either way, I’ve created a short list detailing how I’d go looking for a new CPA if I suddenly found myself in the market for one…
· Verify their education and credentials. This might seem obvious, but all too often, I’ve seen men and women who claim to be CPAs – and might actually be competent tax preparers – who really aren’t. Remember, a tax preparer is someone who can do it, not an official title. Your best bet is to look for the education and make your decision from there – A CPA (Certified Public Accountant) has studied and graduated from a university and passed a strict series of exams to have the title. An Enrolled Agent is someone who is licensed by the IRS. They must pass a comprehensive exam, which requires them to demonstrate proficiency in federal tax return preparation, and complete 72 hours of continuing education classes every three years. Lastly, the IRS also runs a voluntary program that recognizes the efforts of tax return preparers who are not CPAs or Enrolled Agents. These men and women will hold an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion for these folks who obtain a certain number of continuing education hours for a specific tax year. Each of these types of credentials obviously exist along a gradient, but are the bare minimum of experience you need to look for in tax preparation.
· Check out their business record. The news is always filled with tax preparers that have been arrested for fraud or illicit activities, so take the time to check and verify that a tax preparer is who they really say they are. It might seem great if they can consistently get you a fat refund, but how are they arriving at that number? Are they signing the return or “ghosting” it? How will they represent you in case of an audit? All these things are worth checking out and can be indications of bigger challenges.
· Understand their business model. Nobody likes hidden charges, and shady tax preparation is filled with it. At the bare minimum, any firm handling tax preparation should be able to clearly explain their pricing, any hourly or additional charges, and also be able to provide a breakdown of their costs in terms of hourly or project-based pricing. It might seem obvious to many people, but the sheer number of folks who don’t ask for clarification on the fees involved with tax preparation is amazing to me – nearly every week, potential clients call to inquire about our services, but fail to ask about pricing.
· Stay on top of your game. Once you’ve chosen a preparer, you’ve still got to make sure they are doing what they’ve said they would. Common sense items like not signing a blank return, ensuring your preparer signs your return before filing it, and verifying the account and routing number any funds will be returned to all help to keep “honest people honest” so make sure your always do these.
Lastly, if you do have questions about a preparer or suspect your identity was stolen of misused, your recourse is twofold – in case of a stolen identity, you’ll want to immediately file that information with the IRS – file Form 14039 for identity theft and to report alleged tax law violations, use Form 3949-A. In instances like these, of course, you’ll want to report the problem to the right state regulatory agency as well.
Tax preparation continues to be harder for small businesses, but finding the right team to assist you with it doesn’t have to be!