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Hiring the correct tax specialist for your small business is critical. Getting proper tax advice might mean money for your business. Ideally, you should establish a long-term relationship with a tax professional so that you can contact them throughout the year. Because this individual is so vital to your company’s bottom line — and will help alleviate your worry throughout the year — take the time to learn about the many sorts of tax professionals, how they may assist, and how to select one.

Anyone can claim to be a tax expert. And people who prepare tax returns don’t have to be licensed by the IRS. Make sure your tax preparer is one of the following:

  • Enrolled agent (EA). An EA is licensed by the IRS. The EA has either passed a difficult test or has at least five years of experience working for the IRS. Enrolled agents are the least expensive of the tax pros and often offer bookkeeping and accounting assistance.
  • Certified public accountant (CPA) and other accountants. CPAs are licensed and regulated by each state. They perform sophisticated accounting and business-related tax work and prepare tax returns. Larger businesses or businesses with complex business tax returns often need CPAs. The larger CPA firms are expensive. Smaller CPA firms are cheaper and may be better for the typical small business.
  • Tax attorney. Tax attorneys are lawyers with a special tax law degree (called an L.L.M. in taxation) or a tax specialization certification from a state bar association. Tax attorneys can be expensive. But you should consult one if you have a tax problem, are in trouble with the IRS, need legal representation in court, or need business and estate planning.

Whatever type of professional your business needs, make sure he or she has specific knowledge and experience in helping small businesses. It’s even better if you can find someone who already knows a good deal about your type of business or industry.

If you find a good tax professional, you seek his or her assistance in many ways throughout the year.

Information and advice. Your tax professional should be able to help you make key tax decisions and should provide you with basic information and advice.

Record keeping. If you loathe record keeping, have your tax pro set up a record keeping system tailored for your business.

Tax form preparation. Most businesses can benefit from having a professional prepare their tax forms. If you do it yourself, at least run your documents by a tax pro. The tax pro can point out tax deductions that you or your software missed, as well as highlight red flags that might get you into trouble.

Advice in dealing with the IRS. If you are dealing with the IRS on your own, you can get advice and coaching from your tax pro.

Representation when dealing with the IRS. An attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent can represent you before the IRS — so you don’t have to deal with it at all. A good tax pro knows how to handle the IRS bureaucracy.

8 Tips for Finding a Tax Professional Near You

1. Ask for a preparer tax identification number (PTIN)

The IRS requires anyone who prepares or assists in preparing federal tax returns for compensation to have a preparer tax identification number or PTIN. Note the phrase “for compensation” — volunteer tax preparers don’t need PTINs. Make sure your income tax preparer puts their PTIN number on your return; the IRS requires that, too.

2. Require a CPA, law license or enrolled agent designation

How do you find the best tax preparer near you with the credentials you want? One way is to search the IRS’ directory. It includes preparers with PTINs and IRS-recognized professional credentials. Volunteer preparers and preparers with just PTINs won’t be in the database.

A PTIN is a basic requirement that’s relatively easy to get, though, so it doesn’t hurt to go a step further and seek out a credentialed preparer who’s also a certified public accountant (CPA), licensed attorney or enrolled agent (EA). The amount of ongoing study for each designation will vary, but these professionals are generally held to a higher standard of education and expertise.

Read Also: What US City has the Highest Taxes?

You can also consider working with a tax pro who has completed the IRS’ Annual Filing Season program. The Accredited Business Accountant/Advisor and Accredited Tax Preparer are examples of programs that help preparers fulfill the Annual Filing Season Program requirement. 

3. Look for friends in high places

Membership in a professional organization is always a good thing to have in a tax pro, as most have codes of ethics, professional conduct requirements and various certification programs. Professional associations may also be better equipped to connect you with a tax preparer whose experience and background meet your needs.

A few notable organizations include:

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
  • Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA).
  • National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP).
  • National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
  • National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA).
  • National Society of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).
  • The International Society of Filipinos in Finance and Accounting (ISFFA).

If you already work with a financial advisor, you can also check to see if they offer tax planning or advisory services. Their firm may be able to easily connect you with a tax pro.

4. Do a background search

Looking into someone’s credentials or work history might be the last thing on your mind as tax season rolls up, but taking that extra step could ensure that your financial information is in safe hands. One way to do so is to check the preparer or firm’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). You can also dig deeper into your preparer’s background, depending on their specific title:

  • Enrolled agents: Verify their title by emailing the IRS at epp@irs.gov.
  • Certified public accountants: Use the CPA Verify tool or check with your state’s board of accountancy.
  • Tax attorney: Contact your state’s bar association.

5. Compare tax preparation fees

How much do tax preparers charge? According to a 2023 Drake Software survey of over 1,000 tax preparers in the United States, those surveyed expect to charge an average fee of $251 for preparing a nonitemized Form 1040 in 2024. For an itemized Form 1040, that fee jumps to $298. 

Often, tax preparers either charge a minimum fee, plus cost based on the complexity of your return, or they charge a set fee for each form and schedule needed in your return. If you come across a tax preparer whose fee is based on the size of your refund or who says they can get you a bigger refund than the next person, that’s a red flag.

6. Reconsider tax preparers who don’t e-file

The IRS requires any paid preparer who does more than 11 returns for clients to file electronically via the IRS’ e-file system. If your tax preparer doesn’t offer e-file, it may be a sign the person isn’t doing as much tax prep as you thought.

7. Confirm they’ll sign on the dotted line

The law requires paid preparers to sign their clients’ returns and provide their PTINs. Never sign a blank tax return — the preparer could put anything on the return, including their own bank account number so they can steal your refund.

8. Check if they would have your back

Enrolled agents, CPAs and attorneys with PTINs can represent you in front of the IRS on audits, payments, collection issues, and appeals. Preparers who just have PTINs can’t — even if they prepared your return. Preparers who complete the Annual Filing Season Program can represent clients only in limited circumstances.

Availability is also crucial. Even after the filing season is over and your tax return is filed, the best tax preparers will take your call, respond to your email, or welcome you for a visit.

If meeting with a tax pro in person isn’t critical, you may consider getting help online. Many online tax preparers now offer live assistance, so if you do have a question while you’re filing, you can get help in real time.

If you have a pretty simple tax return, you may not need anything more than a free tax filing service. Paid packages from tax providers can also be a less expensive way for people with more complicated tax situations to get their taxes done rather than seeing an in-person professional.

“I am a proponent for self-preparation when individuals are young and just starting out with a simple W-2,” Angie Toney, a CPA in the Washington D.C. area, said in an email interview. “It will give some basic understanding of how taxes are prepared and taxpayers should actually read the return after it is completed.”

If you run a small business, have a tricky tax year, are a new investor or just want to talk with a person face to face, working with a tax preparer or another tax professional may be worth it.

Who is the Best Person to Get Tax Advice From?

If you believe that all tax preparers are made equal, Jeffrey Wood wants you to know that “they are absolutely not.”

Wood is a financial counselor and partner at Lift Financial in South Jordan, Utah, as well as a CPA. But he claims that designation does not necessarily imply that he is the best person to prepare tax returns. “I would go for experience over accolades,” he says, noting that some CPAs specialize in taxation and others do not.

What’s more, some tax professionals prepare returns only in the spring, while others offer more comprehensive services to their clients. Some may help identify areas of potential savings, assist in the event of an audit, and even provide year-round guidance and support.

Many people wonder: How do I find a good tax professional near me? To start, follow these steps:

1. Understand Your Tax Preparation Needs

The first step to finding the best tax professional is to identify what services you need. Some people have basic tax returns, while others may require a preparer who can handle complex tax situations and be available for consultation throughout the year.

“For many people, an H&R Block is a good option,” says Benjamin Bohlmann, a Miami-based partner at accounting firm Marcum. Chain tax preparation companies often have low-cost services that meet the needs of taxpayers with simple returns. “They’re fine and do good work, but it’s not a relationship,” Bolhmann says.

Those who want personalized advice or have complex finances may want to look for a CPA. Enrolled agents and some attorneys are also qualified to do this work.

“Different people have different levels of experience,” says Eric Bronnenkant, head of tax for Betterment, an online financial advisory.

Being a CPA is no guarantee that someone is well-suited to manage your taxes. Just as medical professionals specialize, finance professionals do as well. Many CPAs focus primarily on audits, and those who do choose a career in tax may concentrate on a specific area such as individual, commercial or real estate. Likewise, non-CPA tax preparers may have expertise in some types of returns and not others.

2. Check With Your Network for Referrals

Once you understand the scope of service required, it’s time to begin searching. The best way to start is by tapping into your personal network.

“I would ask someone in your industry who they recommend,” Wood says. That can be helpful for finding a tax preparer well-versed in your particular needs.

A trusted attorney or insurance agent may also have connections with experienced tax professionals. This method is more time-consuming than going to a search engine and typing “tax services near me,” but it can help ensure you are matched to a professional who is able to expertly handle your tax returns.

If your network doesn’t have any suitable leads, a web search may be your next best option. “That’s a little more risky because you aren’t sure what you’re going to get,” Bohlmann says. A good place to look for qualified preparers is on your state’s CPA association website, assuming they have a searchable membership directory.

3. Confirm Credentials

At the very least, someone who is being paid to prepare taxes needs a preparer tax identification number, or PTIN, to file taxes with the IRS. Almost anyone can get a PTIN, however, and it’s no guarantee that a preparer is good at their job or offers the services you need.

Preparers found chains such as Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax may be able to easily handle simple tax returns. They aren’t necessarily trained, however, to provide in-depth tax guidance.

For more complex returns or for help with tax-minimizing strategies, look for an enrolled agent, CPA or tax attorney. You can check the IRS website to confirm someone’s credentials, Wood says.

4. Ask for an Interview

You can learn a lot from online reviews, but nothing replaces a personal conversation. This is particularly important if you’re looking for someone to partner with for the long-term.

Tax time is busy, so don’t expect a long conversation if you’re searching for a tax professional in the spring, but ask for a five- to 10-minute phone call at least. Then, get the following information if it is not readily available on their website:

  • How do you keep my data secure?
  • Do you charge a flat fee per form or an hourly rate?
  • How many returns do you complete a year?
  • Do you prepare all of the returns or do you have staff that assist?
  • How often and by what method do you communicate with clients?
  • Do you file returns electronically?

With some exceptions, the IRS requires tax preparers to file electronically if they submit 11 or more returns a year. That means preparers who use paper returns may be doing taxes on a part-time basis – and that could be a sign to keep looking, no matter how impeccable a person’s credentials may be.

In large accounting firms, there may be many employees who could be working on your tax return, from CPAs to junior staff members. “You want to be at the right place within the firm,” Bohlmann says, so be sure you understand how work on your return will be delegated.

Preparers should also have systems in place to protect confidential information. “They should have a secure upload portal to share documents in both directions,” Bronnenkant says. Sending sensitive material via email could put your data at risk.

5. Compare Fees

While you don’t want to select a tax professional based on price alone, it pays to compare quotes from several providers, especially if you’re using a tax preparation service for the first time. Some preparers may charge an hourly rate, but it’s also common for them to base the fees on the forms and schedules that they must file.

The average fee charged by firms for a Form 1040 without itemization was $220 in 2020-2021, according to a fee survey by the National Society of Accountants. With itemization, the average cost rose to $323. Self-employed workers paid an average of $192 to have their Schedule C form prepared.

Individuals with very simple returns, such as income reported on a Form W-2 and no investments, may be able to save money on tax preparation by doing their own filings.

6. Look For Red Flags

Not everyone who claims to be a tax preparer is legitimate. The following red flags could mean someone is incompetent at best – or a criminal at worst.

Promises of an amazing return. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Bronnenkant urges caution with anyone making “grandiose promises” of a large tax return, particularly before they have had a chance to look at your specific financial information. Unless your income, family situation or the tax law has changed significantly, your tax refund should be similar from year to year.

Refusal to sign a return. By law, a preparer must sign the form of any return they complete. “Be careful not to sign returns that a preparer isn’t willing to sign,” Wood says. Don’t include your signature until you see your preparer add their name first.

A temporary office or missing website. While some independent tax preparers work out of their homes, be careful about hiring someone who doesn’t seem to have any permanent business presence. Should you be audited or have a question about your return later, you want to ensure the preparer will be easy to find.

Charging a fee based on your refund. Legitimate tax preparers will charge either an hourly or flat fee for their work. Assessing a charge based on the size of your refund is considered a violation of professional ethics.

A bad feeling. Finally, don’t overlook your intuition. “Like other professionals, it’s about finding someone you trust,” Bronnenkant says. If something about a tax preparer doesn’t feel right, keep looking. For instance, if a preparer doesn’t seem to understand your questions or tax situation, that can be a sure sign they’re not the right person to complete your return.

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