How to Find an Accountant to File Taxes
If you're like most Americans, the thought of filing your taxes is daunting. With all the complicated rules and regulations to follow, it can be overwhelming to try to do it on your own. The good news is that there are professionals out there who specialize in helping people just like you get their taxes done quickly and accurately—accountants!
Finding the right accountant for you doesn't have to be complicated. Here's a guide to help you find an accountant to handle your tax prep and what to look for when choosing a professional tax preparer.
Determine what type of accountant you need
When it comes to determining what type of accountant you need for filing your taxes, it's essential to consider a few factors.
First and foremost, you want to ensure that the accountant is qualified and experienced in handling your particular tax situation. Accountants often specialize in working with specific types of clients, such as small business owners, expats, or clients who work in certain target industries.
So, if you own a business, you'll want to find a tax accountant who specializes in business taxes. Likewise, if you have foreign investments or face other specific tax challenges, you'll want to look for someone with the appropriate knowledge and expertise.
Ask for referrals
Asking for referrals is a great way to find an experienced and qualified accountant. Ask your friends, family members, or business associates who they work with and whether they've had a positive experience.
However, don't settle with the first suggestion you get. Instead, compile a list of three to four potential accountants to choose from before making any decisions.
Interview potential accountants
Once you have your list of potential accountants, contact each one and schedule a meeting to find out more about them and determine if they are the right fit. During this meeting, ask questions to help you understand their experience level and knowledge. Some good questions to ask are:
- Who is your ideal client? If you need help reporting rental income, foreign investments, or handling other complicated tax issues, it's a good idea to work with an expert who understands your needs.
- How long have you been preparing taxes? If your tax return is simple, an individual with a handful of years in the field should be able to manage it. However, if your return is complicated or you have had issues with the IRS, you may prefer to receive help from someone more knowledgeable.
- Are you available outside of tax season? Some seasonal preparers show up during the months leading up to April 15 and then disappear afterward. However, you may want to work with a year-round professional who's always available in case you need assistance with tax planning or dealing with an IRS notice.
- How do you bill for your services? Tax accountants might charge an hourly rate, a flat fee, or base their price on how many schedules and supporting forms you'll need to file with your return. Any of these options are acceptable as long as you know roughly how much it will cost to have them prepare your tax returns. If you provide a copy of your most recently filed tax return, they should be able to ballpark their fees. Just make sure you let them know about any significant changes you've experienced in the past year that might impact your taxes, such as starting a business, getting married or divorced, or investing in rental property.
Watch out for red flags
When interviewing potential accountants, watch out for red flags indicating the tax preparer is incompetent or untrustworthy.
Some red flags to look out for include the following:
- Promising huge refunds. Be suspicious of any tax preparer who promises refunds that are too good to be true—especially if they haven't yet reviewed your tax information. Shady tax preparers sometimes inflate tax refunds by claiming fictitious deductions or tax credits, then base their fee on a percentage of the tax refund. Not only can their advice be inaccurate, but they can also lead you down a path of potential penalties or even criminal charges from the IRS.
- Refusing to sign a return. Be wary of any tax accountant who refuses to sign your tax return. By law, all paid preparers must sign any return they complete. So not signing is a red flag that could indicate the individual doesn't have a preparer tax identification number (PTIN)—a mandatory ID number issued to anyone who helps prepare federal tax returns for others for a fee.
- Asking you to sign a blank or incomplete return. Preparing a tax return involves a lot of time and paperwork, so it might sound reasonable for a tax preparer to ask you to sign a blank tax return to save time. But this is a huge red flag. When you sign your tax return, you acknowledge that you're signing the return under penalty of perjury and confirm that you've reviewed the return and underlying schedules. In other words, you're responsible for everything on the return, even if someone else prepared and filed it for you. If the tax preparer later fills in fictional tax deductions or credits, you'll be responsible for potential IRS penalties.
Check their credentials
Preparing taxes for others is complicated and involves collecting a lot of personal information from people, so it might come as a surprise that just about anyone can become a paid tax preparer, regardless of their education, training, or experience. That's why it's a good idea to look for an accountant with specialized credentials.
CPAs and EAs are two of the most important credentials to look for in a tax preparer. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) must meet stringent requirements to become licensed, including having at least a bachelor's degree in accounting, passing a series of rigorous exams, and completing several hours of continuing education courses each year to maintain their certification.
An Enrolled Agent (EA) is a tax professional who has passed the IRS's stringent testing requirements and has at least one year of work experience preparing taxes. Because they specialize in working with the IRS, EAs are often an excellent choice for those who have complicated tax situations and need someone who understands the complex rules and regulations of the agency.
You can check the credentials of most CPAs using CPA Verify, an online central repository of information about licensed CPAs and public accounting firms. Forty-nine states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands participate in CPA Verify. If your state doesn't, you may be able to verify a CPA's credentials via your state's board of accountancy.
You can verify the status of an EA at EATax.org.
At Taxfyle, all our Pros are local, US-based CPAs and EAs, so you don't have to worry about turning your sensitive information over to an unlicensed or inexperienced tax preparer.
Make a decision
Once you've identified a few potential accountants and checked their credentials, it's time to make your decision.
Go with a tax accountant you trust and feel comfortable with.
How can Taxfyle help?
Finding an accountant to file your taxes is a big decision. Luckily, you don't have to handle the search on your own.
At Taxfyle, we connect individuals and small businesses with licensed, experienced CPAs or EAs in the US. We handle the hard part of finding the right tax professional by matching you with a Pro who has the right experience to meet your unique needs and will handle filing taxes for you.
Get started with Taxfyle today, and finding a qualified tax pro will be as simple as logging into an app.