Choosing a tax preparer – it’s not too early

Maybe you are like me and do your taxes yourself.  Or maybe you are like many people who trust someone else to prepare their tax return.  Whether your tax situation is simple or complicated, if you decide to use a professional be sure to use someone who knows what they are doing.  And it is never too early to start looking for that someone, if you do not yet have a trusted tax advisor.  You will want someone who will take the time to know your situation and prepare your return accordingly.

  • Make sure he or she is not only experienced in preparing a return with your unique circumstances but that they also keep up with current changes in the tax code.  I had one CPA who told me he had been doing taxes for something like over 40 years.  However, he did not know that the first $2400 of unemployment insurance was not taxable. This was 2009 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  This was one of many errors he made on that year’s return.
  • Just because they are a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) does not mean that they can adequately prepare your return.    I had another CPA whose return was rejected because he thought an insurance agent could claim a tax deduction on dry cleaning his suits.  The taxpayer was not eligible for the deduction in this case. 
  • Even if the individual is referred by a trusted friend or family member, interview them yourself.  You will be depending on them to know the tax law and you want to feel comfortable you are getting the best service possible.
  • Your tax preparer should be willing to “teach” you about your individual tax situation.  You should know what is expected of you and what to bring to your pre-preparation interview.  Don’t “drive thru” your tax return. You could end up paying too much taxes by missing out on deductions and/or credits or worse, failing to declare income you thought you didn’t have to declare.
  • If paying a professional is an issue, there are numerous nonprofits that provide free tax preparation service. These types of tax preparers are certified by the IRS before they can prepare your taxes.  They are also volunteers who are not allowed to charge a fee or even accept gifts in return for their service.
  • Learn as much as is possible about taxable events in your life.  Bottom line, it  is your responsibility to pay the taxes that you owe in a timely manner to avoid penalties, fees and maybe even jail.  Ignorance is no excuse and there are plenty celebrities who are in jail today because they trusted their every taxable decision to someone else. You don’t have to become an expert but it helps to know the basics for your circumstance. You also owe it to yourself and your family to take advantage of deductions and credits legally available to you.

Having the right assistance and advise can make a world a difference at tax time. April 1 is stressful enough.  Try to reduce the stress by eliminating uncertainties surrounding filing your taxes.  A qualified tax preparer can help.

Next: I will focus on resources for those who prefer to prepare their own returns.

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Resources:

Free tax preparation:  http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

Paid e-File preparers: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Authorized-IRS-e-file-Providers-for-Individuals

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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