MARCH 21, 2012
Six tips on hiring a tax preparer
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Still looking for a tax preparer to help you with this year’s tax return?
With the many changes in the tax code, it’s probably a good idea to hire a professional who knows the tax code and may be able to find those extra deductions you might miss on your own. Plus it will save you time and hassle!
There’s still time to hire someone if you act quickly before their schedules are full. The National Society of Accountants (NSA) offers these six tips to help guide your search:
Ask your friends and business colleagues – Firsthand recommendations from friends and colleagues is still one of the most popular ways to hire any type of professional, and this holds true for tax preparers. Ask people what they like most about their tax preparer and find out if the types of returns the person does are similar to your needs.
Interview three candidates – Don’t hire the first person who comes along. Interview three candidates, explain your needs and tax situation, and ask about their experience, approach, fees, and billing arrangements. Ask for references. Build a rapport and look for preparers who ask you lots of questions to learn about your situation.
Check out credentials – Many credentials can be earned by tax preparers to validate their experience and expertise. Find out which ones your tax preparer has and check them out. Some common high-level credentials include Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP), Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA), Certified Professional Accountant (CPA), and Enrolled Agent (EA). If you have a business tax return, look for an Accredited Business Accountant (ABA), and if your tax situation involves retirement planning, consider an Accredited Retirement Advisor. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also requires all tax preparers to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), so make sure your tax preparer has this.
Look for longevity – Hiring a tax preparer who has been in business for a reasonable amount of time and appears committed to the profession can help ensure that the person will be available and in business if the IRS contacts you in future years with questions about your return. Experience and commitment to the profession count.
Watch out for scams – Just as in any business, some unscrupulous tax preparers are out there. Warning signs include preparers who offer to prepare a return in exchange for a percentage of your refund, those who refuse to sign the return they prepare for you or include their PTIN, or someone who asks you to sign a blank return.
Use online resources – Many online resources can help you find qualified tax preparers. NSA, which represents “Main Street” accountants and tax professionals who serve individuals and small businesses, has a searchable database online at www.nsacct.org (click on “Find a Professional”).
NSA Executive Vice President John Ams emphasizes the importance of credentials. “Most people would never hire a doctor, dentist, or lawyer without proven credentials,” he says. “It shouldn’t be any different for tax preparers. Proper credentials demonstrate a mastery of accounting and tax procedures and practices. For example, anyone holding an ATA credential, which is designed specifically to validate the ability of tax preparers to handle individual returns, should be highly qualified to handle these types of returns.”
Membership in NSA is also important, since NSA requires it members to adhere to a strict code of ethics.
For more information about NSA, visit www.nsacct.org.