16 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Tax Preparer

mystery people imageMost business tax returns involve gray areas that require judgment calls based on years of experience and training, so the right tax preparer can save you thousands of dollars.  Here is a list of questions to help you interview tax preparers to find a great fit for your business.

1.  Who will prepare my tax return?
If you are not talking to the actual person that will prepare your return, ask if the actual preparer is available to join the meeting. It is not only good for the preparer to hear directly from you, but also to make sure your personality meshes with everyone that will service your account.

2.  Are you accessible year round?
Some tax preparers are only open during tax season. This will be a problem if you receive a notice or have a question during the summer.

3.  Do you stand behind your work?
A legit preparer will stand behind their work and correct their mistakes at no charge.

4.  Are you qualified to represent me if the IRS audits me or my business?
Only enrolled agents, CPAs and lawyers are authorized to represent you before the IRS. It is important to find a tax preparer that will have your back.  Some preparers offer “audit protection.” This is basically a way to prepay for any costs associated with an audit of your tax return. Ideally, the coverage will include responding to tax notices and representing you in the case of an audit.

5.  What is the normal turnaround time?
Depending on the complexity of your return and when you submit your information, the process could take weeks. If you are a procrastinator, confirm the preparer can accommodate your needs without filing an extension every year.

6.  How do you check the accuracy of your work?
You need a professional that has an internal review process that not only checks for input and mathematical errors, but also looks at the big picture and makes sure there are no stones unturned before the return is filed.

7.  How many clients do you have in my industry?
The more familiar the preparer is with your lingo, processes, structure, and accounting software, the more likely they will be able to reduce your tax bill and help you grow your business.

8.  Do you send newsletters with business tax updates in layman’s terms?
It is important to find a preparer that proactively communicates with you without breaking the bank.

9.  Tell me about a time you helped a client with a unique situation.
Even though they cannot spill all of the beans, they can give you a general idea of their willingness to think outside of the box.

10.  Do you consider yourself to be aggressive or conservative?
You want to hear “it depends on the situation.” The tax law is very complex and the nuances in your business may give you a tax deduction that is not available to other businesses.  When an issue falls in the gray area, it is good to know how the preparer will search for a solution.

11.  What security provisions do you have in place?
One of their top priorities should be to protect your privacy and prevent your information from leaving their office.  If they vaguely answer this question, they most likely do not have proper protection in place. Don’t be a victim of identity theft because of your preparer’s lack of security.

12.  How do you normally communicate with your clients?
You want to hear “we are flexible. How do you prefer we communicate?”

13.  How many times a year do you normally meet with your business clients?
Twice a year either in person or on the phone is ideal.  There are a lot of things to talk about…strategic planning, missed deductions, or recommendations to make next year easier.

14.  May I call you if I am thinking about a change in my business?
The only acceptable response is “I prefer you call me as early as possible, so I can help you evaluate your options, navigate through the change and warn you of possible tax implications. Don’t worry…I do not charge for every phone call, so call me anytime.”

15.  Based on our conversation, besides preparing my tax return, how can you help my business?
Within 30 minutes, a great tax preparer will be able to identify ways to help you grow your business…tax planning, business valuation, or bookkeeping services.

16.  How do you charge for the services we have discussed today?
Searching for the cheapest preparer is a mistake.  A great tax preparer will pay for itself, so do not settle for the cheapest. Ideally, you will receive a quote for the services so you can plan for the expense.  Do not agree to pay by the hour without an estimate of hours in writing.

Hiring a tax preparer is an important decision, so ask for referrals and interview at least three professionals before you make a decision. You not only want a tax preparer that is affordable and willing to explore the gray areas, but also one that you like.  A great tax preparer will take the sting out of tax season.

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Tina White, CPA, is the owner of Panoramic Business Solutions and the author of the blog “In the Black with Tina White”. She helps business owners and managers save time and money using technology and financial data to improve efficiency and cash flow.

Tina White
Panoramic Business Solutions

© Panoramic Business Solutions, LLC 2014.  All rights reserved.




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