The best way to guarantee a great experience at the tax preparation office

Every year, Americans meet with their tax professionals and work to complete a deluge of forms to meet their civic duty: fund the government. This money may go to programs you like or dislike, but the fact of the matter is that it gets your money. Like the holidays, it comes once a year and that causes a great deal of stress for most participants. We get little practice, and about the time we forget a year later, we have to recall details around child care, education, or our equipment purchases.

The Office in 1920

Credit: H. P. Labelle & Cie. office interior, Montreal, QC, 1920

10 Questions

  1. Do you have specific skills for my occupation? Not all tax professionals are created equal. Some start their careers as public accountants working through audit after audit of public companies. Other tax professionals start out as bookkeepers and huff it up the ranks until they have the clientage and the experience to add-on services like investments and tax services. Still others are full-time teachers or accountants or business owners or other professionals that work for major providers during tax season as seasonal employees after completing rigorous testing and training. Find out how your tax preparer came through the ranks and where their foundation is the strongest.
  2. Will you guarantee that your work is correct? In fact, if you make an error will you pay the penalties and interests? This is the main question on everyone's mind when there is a problem. The issue is that problems take 10 months to 2 years to surface. By the time an error is found by the IRS or other tax authorities, the real memory of the events of that year are long gone. Tax professionals do more returns than most people do so they see more interactions between tax payers and taxing authorities. Knowing up front how far the relationship will go once things get tough for you, if they get tough for you, is the best scenario.
  3. How much training do you take annually: for annual tax changes and for specific topics? Every year 10 hours of education are required in three areas: federal returns, state returns and tax updates. Many preparers seek more training so that they can increase their skills. Increased skills means that each preparer can do more complex returns, or the same returns faster. Both of these options raise their income per return. The more training they get, the more their prices may potentially rise over the years.
  4. What is your registration number with the IRS, called a Tax Preparer Identification Number (TPIN)? A tax preparer may change companies over the years; however, their TPIN is always the same. This is the number the IRS uses to find each preparer who receive compensation to prepare returns for other people. Again, you'll need this when the times get tough. If they refuse to give this to you, ask for proof that they are registered with the IRS to prepare taxes for other people for a fee.
  5. Who do I call if I have a tax question after the interview? The main point of this question is to decide who you will call after tax season is over. Many offices are seasonal and can offer you a year round contact number for a local or nearby location when they are not in season.
  6. What is the cost of the return? Are there any hidden costs involved? Tax preparers are typically paid according to how difficult it is to prepare the return. There are many things that are involved in this equation: dependents, types of income, sources of income, tax forms reporting income, tax forms reporting fees, rental schedules, home ownership, etc. A 1040ez will be the least expensive, 1040a's will cost more, and 1040's with schedule C's, etc will cost the most.
  7. Do you file returns online? Tax authorities are using digital reporting to cut costs and speed up the process. The more returns that are sent through electronically, the quicker the authorities can check them and take action.
  8. What is the cost to file returns electronically? Some locations will charge more for this. The reason for this is the risk involved with losing electronic data, and the regulatory requirements about the security of that data. Let's face it, all of your tax personal information is on that form. If it falls into the wrong hands, your identity is in danger.
  9. Can I access my return online? With the cloud, more and more organizations are giving you access to centrally managed databases for personal information to document retention. This could be pretty convenient to pull up your tax documents from your phone when making major purchases like a car or home or boat. And yes, I recommend you guy your car before your house, and your house before your boat.
  10. Are you available for contact if the IRS calls me? Tax professionals can quickly and easily answer many of the questions the IRS has about your return. This can be good and this can be risky. Carefully measure the risks and rewards of allowing someone else show your information to the IRS. At any time, the preparer or their company may represent you, but for first calls, this can get you into trouble.