There are two types of professionals who can help you out: tax preparers and accountants.
Tax preparers, such as the ones who work seasonally at places like H&R Block, are ordinary people who have gone through a training course, and are qualified to enter your data into a filing software program for your taxes.
There are many different types of accountants available, but generally speaking, accountants will cost much more than tax preparers because it is what they do for a living -- and they can do more for you than just taxes. Accountants have targeted education and a professional designation. They are often used for complicated tax returns related to things such as complex investments, rental properties or owning a business.
Where to find a tax professional
Asking for a referral from a friend, relative or someone you trust is often the best way to find someone to do your tax return. Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to a few candidates, make sure to do a background check on the company they work for using the Better Business Bureau website. Ask about their training, experience and knowledge of tax laws that are relevant to your unique tax situation. Don’t be afraid to request references or referrals from past clients.
Learn about their services in advance
Tax professionals are much more expensive than filing your own taxes using online software, so make sure you understand how much they charge and how their fees are calculated. Do they charge by the hour, or by the project? Do they charge for answering phone calls, or questions you send via email? Ask for an estimate of the preparation fee before agreeing to work with them.
Additionally, it is in your best interest to find out whether they guarantee the accuracy of their work, and if they will fix the return free of charge if there happens to be a mistake.
The Better Business Bureau advises staying away from tax preparers who sound too good to be true. Beware of those who:
• Guarantee a larger refund than their competitors.
• Base their fee on a percentage of your refund amount, instead of the complexity of your tax return and paperwork.
• Don’t ask to review your records and receipts.
• Don’t discuss whether you qualify for expenses and deductions.
Try to find someone who will explain your tax forms and paperwork to you, because even though they have done all of the calculations, you are ultimately responsible for your own tax return.
There are plenty of reasons to hire a tax professional. The process to find one can be frustrating at times, but once you have someone that you work well with, you can start to establish a long-term relationship with them.
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