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  • Writer's pictureRob Schmansky

How to Find a Tax Professional

Filing your taxes is not easy and finding someone to help you can be even more difficult but here’s some guidance on finding a tax preparer you can trust.

As an independent financial advisor, I recommend clients consider working with an independent tax professional is separate from their financial advisor. There are two reasons I have come to this as a “best practice” for choosing a tax professional.

First, having a background at various CPA firms, advisory firms, and retail tax preparation firms, I have found that by far the best tax experience an individual can receive is having their returns prepared by a full-time professional. I know many part-time preparers, and am one myself, but I strongly recommend the efficiency, quality checks, professional experience, and cost that a full-time specialist provides.

Next, it benefits most clients to have a person who specializes in working with the detailed numbers from the past, and someone who is focused on the big picture, and is more future-oriented. A financial advisor is often the best person to see the financial forest for the trees, and not allow decisions to be made in the bubble of simply what is best from a tax perspective.

As I mentioned, searching for a professional can be tricky. Price may play a factor, however many independent tax professionals charge less than the retail stores, and a good preparer is worth the cost.

The criteria I recommend focusing on include:

  • Experience. How long has this individual been preparing income tax returns? How many years prior to preparing returns for clients were they supervised by a qualified professional? Is this their only field, or do they simply do returns “on the side” and devote more of their time to other endeavors?

  • Number of support staff. How many people review your return for accuracy? Many independent firms will have two or three sets of eyes glance over a return before it is ultimately signed, though some are solo-practitoners who are their own check.

  • Knowledge. How does this professional keep up on tax knowledge? Are they respected in their field?

  • Referrals. It may be best to start with recommendations who other independent professionals believe is qualified.

Credentials can be helpful in determining if an individual may be qualified, but they should not be the determining factor. CPAs have the training and skillset to be great tax professionals, but just because one is a CPA does not mean they have the experience or knowledge in taxes to be competent. The same is true of tax attorneys and enrolled agents. The exams and barriers to certifications in tax preparation are very weak; credentials do not for the most part test tax knowledge (CPA), and there are none that truly test the ability to prepare a return in practice. Many are checking for a very basic knowledge of common issues, and unfortunately with income tax returns there are a lot of areas that aren’t black or white, and many that require a significant ability to research and provide rationale for the decisions that are made.

The preceding blog was originally published by Forbes. To view the original blog please visit our blog at Forbes.

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