You’ve decided to take the plunge and hire a tax preparer. So you need to know what to ask tax preparers before hiring one.
We may be a little bit biased (Okay, a lot biased.), but we think that hiring a tax preparer is one of the smartest things you can do for yourself during tax season.
Not only are you taking some serious stress and late nights off your hands, but you’re also putting your tax return into the hands of an expert, someone who knows tax return filing inside and out.
The right tax preparer is worth their weight in gold, or at least in tax deductions. Finding the right tax preparer to stick with over years will give you new leverage over the tax filing process and make tax season even easier, year after year.
Unfortunately, finding the right tax preparer is a challenge to say the least.
Do you go with one of the big outfits, like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt? What about one of those small outfits squeezed into the side of a rundown strip mall with a sign that just reads “Tax Services”? Is a tax preparation service or a CPA better?
Our team of tax specialists is experts of tax preparation. They’re math wizards, they’re empathetic, and they’re curious problem solvers who are always up to the challenge—whatever that challenge may be.
However, we’re not about to claim we’re the only tax preparation service out there, or even the only good one. Each of those tax preparers could be a perfect fit for certain taxpayers, certain tax situations, and certain budgets.
On the other hand, no tax preparer is perfect for every single taxpayer, situation, or budget. Anybody who says otherwise has put the bottom line over their customer care, which earns them some serious side-eye from us.
Because every tax preparer may be right for someone, your job then is figuring out which of the tax preparers you’re currently considering are the ones you shouldn’t be.
Fortunately, you can cut to the chase by asking your tax preparer three questions.
A Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN, is a number given to every professional tax preparer. Whether they’re a CPA or an H&R Block, they’ll need to put their PTIN on every tax return they prepare and file.
Now, assuming every tax preparer has a PTIN, why would you bother asking for it? Well, because not every person claiming to be a tax preparer actually is one. Some less scrupulous folks (read: “scammers”) only charge based on a portion of your tax return, but they then claim a bunch of deductions you don’t actually qualify for. So, once you’ve paid them, they ride off into the sunset while you get audited.
Yeah, that’s no good. Ask for their PTIN and check it against the IRS’s directory here.
Your tax return is your tax return, a fact that does not materially change when you hire a tax preparer. Unfortunately, hiring a tax preparer doesn’t protect you from being audited. Even a perfectly filed tax return can still trigger an audit!
You deserve a tax preparer that is willing to stick with you throughout the tax filing process if any problems arise with your tax return or in case you have questions. If your tax preparer isn’t willing to stand by you and their work, trust us—you can do a lot better. If you’re looking to build a long-term professional relationship with your tax preparer, you’re better off with someone who is willing to assist you in the event of an audit.
Your tax preparer may charge hourly, a flat rate, or a portion of your return. Because of that, tax preparers can vary widely in terms of price.
On one side of the spectrum, you have CPAs who may charge many thousands of dollars but primarily serve high net worth individuals with incredibly complex returns. On the other end, low-detail tax preparation services may only charge $30 or $40 but specialize in simple returns, then charge additional fees beyond that. Understanding their fee structure and how it is calculated will give you a sense of whether a tax preparer is in your budget.
We’ve written more on tax preparation costs before, so we recommend giving that a read.
There may not be one “right” tax preparer, but there’s probably a right tax preparer for you. By asking the right questions, you give yourself the best info possible to making an informed decision. With any luck, you’ll have settled on a tax preparer you absolutely love.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to toot our own horns. We’ve been in business for nearly two decades, we file over 1000 tax returns monthly, and we stand by our work 100 percent. So let’s get those taxes filed, shall we?