How To Get The Right Person On Your Tax Team

Tax preparerThe seasons recently flipped from summer to fall and just as the leaves start to change colors and drop from the trees, our attention needs to turn to another somewhat less lovely season – tax season.

For the small business owner or solopreneur, filing taxes can be a major pain; the record-keeping burden falls squarely on their shoulders. Working with the right tax preparer can help reduce the stress as well as taxes owed. Here are some tips to help you connect with the right person.

Check availability. Some tax preparers just hang out their shingle during tax season. As a small business owner you want someone who is in the tax business all year long. You need to develop a relationship with your tax preparer that includes discussions and advice throughout the year. You may want to work with a CPA or an enrolled agent. Tax laws vary from year to year and you need someone who is always up-to-date.

Ask around. There are two kinds of references – the ones the tax preparer would give you and the ones you receive from your acquaintances in the local business community. The second type are generally the best. When you’re looking for a new tax preparer and adviser, talk to other business owners in your area. Make sure you talk to people who have businesses somewhat similar to yours. A doctor who has a medium-sized practice and employs several medical professionals won’t want the same tax person as the person who runs a clothing store and employs the whole family.

Another good place to start your search is at the National Association of Tax Professionals website. They have a search feature that will get you a list of member tax professionals near you; sometimes website links are included in the member’s contact information.

Examine your candidate carefully. Check the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any red flags. Beyond that, take time with the interview process. You want a tax professional that you feel comfortable with. If it seems like someone is trying to hurry you along, you’ll be less likely to contact that person when you have questions throughout the year. You want to feel like your establishing a partnership more than just finding a hired gun who’s paid by the hour. Be sure your interview includes questions specific to your industry, which brings us to the next point.

Get up to speed on the basics. You need to make an informed decision when you select a tax professional. This means you should know the basic language of taxation and finances. TurboTax has an excellent glossary of terms. If you scroll through it, you’ll see words and phrases that look familiar. If you aren’t sure of their meaning, take a moment to bone up. Without a certain level of knowledge, you’re not being advised by your tax professional, you are merely at his or her mercy. Further, don’t be afraid to stop any conversation with this person and ask, “What do you mean by that?”

Find out about fees. Know the cost of the services you’ll require before you commit. Also, make sure you know exactly what is covered in the charges.

Don’t worry, you’ll make it through tax season okay. However, as you probably know, the single most important thing you can do is keep good records throughout the year. And while your tax person can give you hints, systems and encouragement, this responsibility is ultimately yours.

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Image: Tax, © 2007 Phillip Ingham, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.