How to find a qualified tax professional

Jim Gallant
Jim Gallant | 3 min. read
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Published on December 30, 2014

The New Year is upon us, a time for celebration and optimism. And then it’s everyone’s favorite time of the year: tax season. Even if you’re comfortable preparing and filing your own taxes, hiring a certified professional accountant (CPA) or other qualified tax preparer can be a wise move.

A good tax professional will make sure you don’t overpay a dime in taxes because you’re not taking all the tax deductions you’re entitled to. He or she also can prevent you from making costly errors that could land you in hot water with the IRS or your state government.

In this post, attorney, author, and tax expert Stephen Fishman tells you how you to find a CPA or other qualified pro to handle your tax preparation and filing.

Often, the best way to find a tax pro is to get referrals from friends or business associates. If this doesn’t work, there are a number of professional organizations that have online databases of tax preparers.

These organizations include the:
National Association of Enrolled Agents
American Institute of CPAs, and
National Association of Tax Professionals

Additionally, you can find other directories at Accountant-Finder.com, AccountantsWorld.com, and CPAdirectory.com.

Note that you don’t have to go to a tax preparer’s office to do your return. Tax return preparation can be handled completely online by email. There are no laws preventing you from using an accountant online. Thus, you can use a preparer in another city or even another state.

However, it’s wise to stick with a preparer located in your home state because he or she will likely be more knowledgeable about your state’s taxes.

Keep in mind that whoever you hire to prepare your taxes, it’s ultimately up to you to make sure your return is prepared properly.

What can I do to ensure I’m getting quality tax preparation services?

You can protect yourself by taking these steps:

  • Verify your preparer’s credentials. You can check on an enrolled agent’s status with the IRS by emailing the IRS at epp@irs.gov or opr@irs.gov, or calling (313) 234-1280 or (202) 927-6428. You must provide the agent’s full name, city and state, plus your name and address. Additionally, you can check on a CPA with your state board of accountancy.
  • Make sure you understand how much the services you are getting cost. Ask for an estimate of the preparer’s fees before you hire him or her. The IRS recommends that you should avoid tax return preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund.
  • Your preparer must provide a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) obtained from the IRS.
  • Whether your return is filed electronically or by mail, make sure to get a printed copy signed by your preparer. IRS rules require all paid preparers to identify themselves on the returns they prepare. If a preparer refuses to sign your return, he or she is likely up to something shady.

Read more articles by Stephen Fishman on the Buildium Blog. And from everyone at Buildium, have a Happy New Year!

Read more on Accounting & Taxes
Jim Gallant

Jim Galant is a freelance writer from Boston, MA.

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