If you go back to the idea of preparing your own tax return and wonder how you can find a good certified public accountant (CPA) or tax accountant, you are not alone. According to the I.R.S., of the more than 138 million tax returns filed electronically until November 22, 2019 (for fiscal year 2018), about 58 percent were prepared by a tax professional.
TO Cable cutter, a product review site owned by the New York Times, we discovered that hire a C.P.A. or tax professional it can take the long and frustrating task of deciphering I.R.S. rules and shapes of your shoulders. However, hiring the wrong person can do more harm than good.
Why you should be careful when choosing a C.P.A.
Each year, the I.R.S. compile a "Dirty dozen"List of tax scams. Although the scams are very varied, many of them include actions taken by murky tax preparers, such as promising inflated refunds, false claims of deductions and credits, or encouraging customers to avoid their tax obligations.
Unfortunately, almost anyone can become a paid tax preparer. Most states have few or no requirements for certification, training or even proficiency testing.
So how do you find someone you can trust? Let us guide you through a three-step process to find a C.P.A. or tax accountant near you.
Step 1: compile a list of possible accountants and tax accountants
As with most service providers, an excellent way to find a C.P.A. or the accountant should ask for a reference. But don't limit yourself to the name you get, compile a list of three or four potential counters. That's how:
Ask for references to friends, family and coworkers.
Dan henn, a C.P.A. In Rockledge, Florida, he said that most of his business comes from references.
"Consult with family, friends, business partners, co-workers, your lawyer, financial advisor or banker," said Henn. "Find out who they use and if they have had a positive experience."
CPAs and accountants tend to focus on particular niches or specialties, such as small business owners, people with high net worth or clients working in certain industries. As a result, Mr. Henn recommends asking people he knows with similar needs. "For example, if you are a doctor, talk to other doctors and ask who they use," he said.
Search in the I.R.S. directory.
The only qualification that every paid tax preparer must have is a tax preparer identification number, or P.T.I.N. Anyone can request a P.T.I.N. online for free, so a P.T.I.N. By itself it is not indicative of the person's ability or experience.
However, the I.R.S. maintains a directory of P.T.I.N. Headlines – such as C.P.A.s, registered agents (E.A.) and lawyers – who have current credentials recognized by the I.R.S. The directory also includes people who have completed the Annual program of the presentation season, a series of voluntary continuing education classes that cover federal tax laws and ethics. Search the directory by zip code to find a C.P.A. or an accredited tax professional near you.
Check with your state or national associations.
Many state accounting boards Y C.P.A. societies Maintain online member directories or you can provide a list of tax professionals in your area when prompted. Not all C.P.A. Prepare your taxes, so you may have to do a little research online or call to see if the people on your list provide the type of tax services you need.
The E.A. They are federally licensed tax professionals who are authorized to advise, represent and prepare tax returns for individuals and businesses. The National Association of Registered Agents (N.A.E.A.) maintains a directory of E.A.. You can search the directory by location, specialties, language, experience and more.
Consider free tax preparation resources.
If you earn less than $ 56,000 per year or are 60 or older, you may want to consider preparing your tax return through the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax advice for the elderly (T.C.E.) programs
These programs are sponsored by the I.R.S. and attended by trained volunteers to provide basic tax preparation services to the public for free. If you qualify, use the VITA / T.C.E. location tool to find a provider near you.
According to the I.R.S., the majority of VITA and T.C.E. sites will not appear in your search results until approximately three weeks before its scheduled opening. If you are looking for a site outside from mid-January to April, you may have difficulty finding one near you.
Once you find a location, check the I.R.S. list of what to bring to your tax appointment before you leave.
Step 2: reduce your options
Once you have made a list of possible tax preparers near you, it is time to focus on who is the best. This is what you should do:
Verify your credentials.
If you obtained the name of the tax preparer from the I.R.S., the accounting board of your state, a C.P.A. society, or NAEA, your credentials are probably legitimate. However, if you obtained the name through a reference, it is a good idea to find out if the person has the certifications they claim to have.
Forty-seven states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam participate in C.P.A. check, a central online repository of information on licensed CPA and signatures of public accountants. Search for cpaverify.org or the website of the accounting board of your state to verify the credentials of a C.P.A.
You can check the status of an E.A. to EATax.org.
Read reviews online.
Look at your potential C.P.A. or the tax preparer's website and social media accounts to see what kind of things they publish online. Read reviews online on Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, Thervo and Facebook. Google your name to see what appears and scroll through the first pages of search results to make sure there is nothing hidden.
Anyone who works with the public probably has a negative review posted by a disgruntled customer. But if your investigation discovers red flags as a pattern of customer complaints, non-professional social media posts or an arrest record, move on to your next candidate.
Make an appointment.
Now that you have reduced your list to the most promising prospects, communicate and ask them to meet in person as soon as possible. But be careful: if you wait to make an appointment until the 2020 tax season is underway, you may have difficulty finding someone who has time to sit with you. Organize a meeting as soon as possible, even if you don't have all your tax documents ready yet.
Step 3: Interview with a possible C.P.A.
When meeting with a potential accountant, bring a copy of your most recent tax return. Reviewing your last statement is one of the best ways for the tax professional to assess your situation and give you an idea of how much they might charge you.
Be prepared to inform your potential accountant about any significant changes in life you have experienced in the past year, as if you got married (or divorced), invested in a rented property or started a business.
Here are some key questions to ask during your meeting:
How long have you been preparing taxes? If your tax return is relatively simple, someone with only a couple of years of experience under your belt should be able to handle it. But if your return is complicated or you have had problems with the I.R.S. In the past, you may want someone more experienced.
Do you have any specialty? If you have specific needs, maybe you own a small business or rental property, or have foreign investments, you should work with someone who specializes in working with clients like you.
How do you bill for your services? The accountant may not be able to give you an exact price at this initial meeting, but you should be able to give him an estimate, especially if he shows you last year's performance. Find out if they charge a flat rate or an hourly rate; Okay, as long as you have an idea of how much it will cost to prepare your return.
Are you available for questions outside the tax season? Some tax preparers are installed during the tax season, only to disappear shortly after April 15. If something goes wrong after filing your return or if you need help planning next year, a seasonal tax preparer will not be very helpful. Look for someone available throughout the year.
Who will prepare my return? If the accountant is part of a company, the person he meets may not be the one preparing his statement; You can give it to an associate with less experience and simply review your work. While this can help keep your costs down, it's good to know who is really doing the job.
Extra step: look outside where you live
If you can't find a tax preparer or C.P.A. Near you with whom you feel comfortable working, consider looking outside your geographic location. Although many people prefer face-to-face meetings, it is not limited to CPAs and tax advisors in their city.
Mr. Henn said he worked with many clients who feel funny sharing their personal financial information with a tax preparer in their own city, so they work with someone in another city or state. "Due to technology like Skype and Zoom, secure portals and electronic files, you can work with accountants anywhere in the country," he said.
It may be time to decide how important that face-to-face connection is for you.
No matter who prepares your tax return, remember: you are ultimately responsible for your content. Never sign a tax return before verifying it is accurate. If you are not sure of something, ask the preparer to explain it to you. When you sign your declaration, either with a pen or electronically, you are affirming under penalty of perjury that it is complete and accurate.
Take the time to hire a reputable tax professional and review your work carefully to help ease your worries this tax season.
Sign up for the Weekly Wirecutter Newsletter and receive our latest recommendations every Sunday.
A version of this article appears. at Wirecutter.com.