When you were a kid, April meant spring sunshine and bunnies and chocolate hidden in the planters. As an adult, April means incomprehensible tax forms and esoteric rules determining how much of your money gets siphoned into the government’s coffers.
But tax season doesn’t have to feel like Mount Doom and you the lonely yet intrepid hobbit. There is help out there – and it’s easy to find. You know that Thumbtack is packed with qualified accountants who will make your life easier. But how do you find the one who best suits your particular needs? Never fear, we have a handy list of questions to help you out.
Questions To Ask Your Accountant In Your Quest To Feel Like a Tax-Paying Adult
How long have you been in the tax business?
Hiring a fresh-faced accountant isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but if you have a specific situation that requires expertise, you may want to consider their experience.
Do you have the knowledge and experience to handle my tax situation?
Make sure your accountant understands your business. Restaurants have to follow certain rules for wages and tips and freelance photographers have a specific set of appropriate business write-offs. You need an accountant who understands the ins and outs of your industry.
Are you available year round?
Some accountants shut their doors after April 15 and reappear like specters next tax season. But if you’re running a small business, you want someone who will be available throughout the year. Most small business owners need to file quarterlies and if something comes up, you don’t want to have to search for someone new or wait until tax season comes around again.
Do you perform the work personally? If not, what is the review process? Who signs the returns?
Accountants sometimes outsource to a third party. This doesn’t necessarily mean their services are suspect, but you want to know who’s doing the work. If you need to speak with someone familiar with your bookkeeping and it’s a third party, it may be difficult to speak with them directly. Also, your preparer’s signature needs to appear on your tax return. If a preparer refuses to sign a return, take that as a waving red flag.
What are your fees?
Some accountants bill by the hour, others charge a flat rate. Whatever the approach, get an estimate of an accountant’s likely fees. Hand over a copy of your previous year’s tax returns so the accountant can familiarize himself with your business before giving a quote. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your anticipated refund – they have a financial incentive to encourage not-entirely-kosher credits and deductions.
Approximately how long will it take to finish my taxes?
You probably won’t walk out of their office with a completed return, but you should receive it within a reasonable amount of time. If your preparer can’t offer an expected time window, they may not be a good fit. Run away if a preparer won’t provide a copy of your return after supposed e-filing.
How often will we communicate about tax issues?
Make sure their communication style matches yours. You want to feel comfortable giving them a call when needed
What happens if I get audited?
Deep breath. No one wants to think about getting audited. But it’s worth your time to ask how that gets handled. Will your preparer respond to IRS questions? Represent you in front of IRS or Tax Court? Not all tax preparers are allowed to represent clients before the IRS or in court, so that may affect your decision.
Now That You Have An Accountant, You Need:
- Last year’s return
- All tax forms, like W-2s and 1099s
- Any other paperwork, including investments, property sales or rentals, school loan interest paid
- Any write-offs made last year, including charitable donations and business expenses
- Anything else they tell you they need, including a fresh blueberry muffin. Hey, you want to keep your accountant happy, don’t you? (Be wary of excessive blueberry muffin demands.)
Dump it all in their capable hands and go get yourself a well-deserved second breakfast.