We could list off the qualities of the ideal candidate for preparing your taxes. However, you’ll never be able to find the right candidate unless you ask the right questions.
Lots of questions.
And not just about pricing.
So here we’ve compiled a list of the top questions you should be asking during your search.
Do you have a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number)?
Now at first, this may seem like a bit of a strange question. Because – what? Of course a tax preparer has it! All of them do!
Such implicit faith could cost you a lot. So don’t hesitate, ask this question.
Anyone who prepares federal tax returns for compensation must have a valid 2019 PTIN. All enrolled agents must also have a valid PTIN.
You can check out the PTIN qualifications on your own by using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) online PTIN directory.
What is your tax background?
And by using the term ‘tax background’ we mean ‘do you have enough qualifications to help me really sort out this heap of taxes?’.
Here’s the list of qualifications:
Other accountants, bookkeepers, and tax preparers may be able to demonstrate competence, but still lack formal credentials. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a look. Ask about what they do and why they’re qualified to do it.
Have you prepared this particular type of tax return before?
Not all tax returns are the same. And the same goes for tax preparers.
Some preparers are savvy when dealing with forms like the 1040-EZ. Others might be more used to filling out Schedules C (business) and/or E (rentals). Some may focus on pass-through entities, tax-exempt organizations, or fiduciary returns.
And there are so many more different variations. Nobody can do it all, and don’t trust anyone who tells you they’re a tax guru. Find a tax preparer who has experience with your specific situation.
Are you aware of the different requirements of the states and localities where I am required to file?
Federal income taxes don’t change from one state to the next. But things can get complicated when it comes to states and localities.
It’s possible your state or locality has confusing filing requirements, especially for business owners. It can get even more complicated if you’ve moved from state to state during the year or if you live in one state and work in another.
So make sure that your preparer knows – and can handle – all of those filing requirements.
What records and other documentation will you need from me?
A reputable preparer should insist that you provide your forms W-2, 1099, 1098 and other verifications of income and expenses.
Don’t trust a preparer who offers you to e-file your return just by using a pay stub (that’s against IRS rules).
A tax preparer should always be able to explain what will be needed for special schedules, forms, or circumstances.
How do you determine your fees?
So, what about the money?
Prices vary based on the complexity of your return, whether you require additional schedules, supporting forms, or whether your return has out of the ordinary line items.
Some preparers may even offer you reduced costs for a federal return, but add on for state and local returns.
Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of the refund or who boast bigger refunds than their competition. When asking about a preparer’s services and fees, don’t immediately give them tax documents, Social Security numbers, or other similar information.
Can I file my tax return electronically?
Yep, you still have to ask this…
Electronic filing is the fastest way to get your refund and usually results in fewer math errors. So a paid qualified preparer who prepares and files more than ten client returns must generally file returns electronically unless the client opts out.
Who should sign my return?
The PTIN and the preparer’s signature need to appear on your tax return. Don’t trust a preparer who refuses to sign a return or asks you to sign as self-prepared.
How do I find you if I have a question after tax season is over?
Clients often receive requests from taxing authorities for additional information in October or November. So try to find a tax preparer who will not mystically disappear from your life after preparing your tax return.
How can you help me if I get audited?
Find out how the tax preparer handles audits or examinations from the IRS.
Will they respond to the questions? Can the tax preparer represent you in front of the IRS or a Tax Court?
Remember that attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents are the only tax professionals with unlimited representation rights. This means that they can represent their clients on any matters including audits, payment/collection issues, and appeals in front of the IRS.
AFSP participants have limited representation rights, meaning they can represent clients whose returns they prepared and signed, but only before revenue agents, customer service representatives, and similar IRS employees (including the Taxpayer Advocate Service).