So where should you look? Your best bet is to ask your friends. Find someone who is happy with a preparer’s work and get the preparer’s name. Friends in similar financial situations are the best source.
If that doesn’t pan out, check with your state’s CPA, legal or enrolled agent organizations.
Ask questions first
When shopping for a tax preparer, experience counts. You want someone who knows taxes and is up-to-date. So ask a few questions before you go ahead. Here are some good ones:
• What is your experience with my type of return? Most preparers can do a simple 1040, but your family’s trust could throw some preparers for a loop. Check out any special requirements in advance. While you’re at it, make sure that the preparer’s experience is current. The tax laws are changing all the time.
• Do you know the requirements of all the states where I am required to file? If you have moved from state to state, or you live in one state and work in another, or you have financial interests in other states, you need a preparer with interstate experience. Many preparers are challenged by this, particularly if the other state is more than 100 miles away.
• Are you aggressive or conservative? Do you like to take chances or do you like to play it safe? Many tax returns are cut and dried, but some situations could be played in aggressive or conservative ways. Make sure that you hire a preparer who agrees with your level of risk taking.
• Will you represent me if I am audited? This question opens the door to finding out the preparer’s audit record. A garden variety preparer should have his clients audited very rarely. Preparers representing certain small businesses or other high-risk taxpayers might have a higher rate, but it still should be pretty low. A high rate could indicate trouble.
• How much do you charge? Is it hourly? By the form? Extra for getting your records organized? Find out in advance. And if possible, get this in writing