There’s no question that partnering with a tax expert can make your life easier. Not only will your personal workload be reduced each tax season, but you can rest easier throughout the year knowing that your finances are in good hands. It’s hard to put a price tag on peace of mind like this.
But just as small business owners have varying levels of competence and industry knowledge, not all tax professionals are top-notch. Some of these professionals might lack the knowledge to get you the largest refund possible. In other cases, they could be sloppy and make mistakes in your filing. Some individuals even charge their fee based on the size of your return, which can entice the tax preparer to aggressively seek credits whether you qualify for them or not, which exposes you to higher risk of an audit.
To avoid working with unqualified individuals, you’ll need to do your due diligence. The following questions can serve as a starting point.
1. What Is Your PTIN?
This question is low-hanging fruit because agents must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number from the IRS to file your taxes. While having a PTIN doesn’t vouch for their abilities, it at least proves they’re certified to perform their duties.
2. What Professional Associations Do You Belong To?
It’s fairly easy to acquire a PTIN, so you should dig a little deeper to find out how involved they are in the tax industry. Once you know what associations they’re part of, verify their membership on that association’s website.
3. What Are Your Fees?
As mentioned earlier, some tax professionals base their fees on the size of your refund. This arrangement is sketchy because it could lead them to be dishonest. It also prevents you from knowing how much you’ll owe until the final stages of the process, which is never a good position to be in. Find someone who charges a flat rate and can give you a fair estimate up front.
4. Can You Provide Me With a Few Referrals?
If you’re wondering what it will be like to work with someone, it’s always nice to hear a firsthand perspective. There are obviously major bonus points if these referrals come from a person you already know and trust, such as a colleague or family member.
5. Can You Tell Me About Your Professional Experience?
It’s helpful to understand how long a tax professional has been in the business. As a rule of thumb, try to find someone with at least 10 years of experience. You can also ask questions to learn more about their tax specialties to determine if they are a good fit for your unique business situation.
6. When Will My Tax Filing Be Completed?
This question helps you gauge the organizational and planning abilities of tax preparers. Also, it gives an indication of their workload. If there are already too many other clients in the mix, you could run the risk of not having your taxes filed by April 15. While extensions are always possible, there’s no reason to take that route unnecessarily.
7. Where Will My Refund Check Be Sent?
If you qualify for a refund, the money should always be sent directly to you. Avoid any tax professional who tries to have the check sent to his or her office first.
8. Can I Contact You If There Are Issues with My Filing?
Filing taxes is a singular transaction each year, but it involves diverse factors that may require attention. You’ll want to know that you can reach out to your tax professional if the IRS has questions about your taxes or any other issues arise.
9. Do You Offer Advice Year-Round?
Even if you’ve buttoned up everything beautifully in your latest tax filing, your circumstances can quickly change. Whether it’s a marriage, a divorce, a death in the family, a birth in the family, or a factor related to your business, you should be able to count on your tax professional to be a resource 12 months out of the year.
10. Do You Provide Audit Assistance?
It’s important to know whether or not your tax professional would be able to support you if you were audited. Seek out someone who will serve as your advocate every step of the way.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of asking prospective tax professionals these types of questions, just remember how much is on the line. You’ll be giving this individual access to your most secure finances. Then you will rely on them to strategically file your taxes in a way that maximizes your return without doing anything unethical. It’s a delicate balance that requires a high level of trust and confidence.
So when you’re looking for a tax professional to partner with, you have every right to ask questions. And you’ll be all the more confident once you have the answers.