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Choosing a new tax preparer (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this blog post, we discussed the different kinds of tax preparers you can choose to help complete your individual or business tax return.

You may find more than one candidate you’re interested in, so use this interview guide to determine which person or firm is right for you:

  1. Discuss the candidate’s professional credentials. Does he or she enroll in continuing education classes each year to stay current on tax law changes? 
  2. Ask about his or her fees. The preparer may not be able to quote an exact price without knowing the extent of your work, but should be able to offer a range. Providing your most recently filed return will help the preparer narrow the range.
  3. Consider the preparer’s work experience and services. Can he or she assist you with tax planning, financial statements or other consulting needs? Does he or she file tax returns electronically? (Professional preparers must E-file returns if filing 10 or more in a year, unless extenuating circumstances prevent it.)
  4. Can the preparer represent you if your return is audited? CPAs, attorneys and enrolled agents (EAs) can all practice before the IRS. Annual Filing Season Program participants hold limited representation rights, but can represent a client if they prepared the return. Preparers with no recognized qualifications can’t represent you before the IRS. Be cautious if the preparer promises a large refund. Avoid anyone who:
  • won’t sign your tax return,
  • asks you to sign a blank 8879 (E-file form), or
  • requests your refund be deposited into his or her account.
  1. If you work out of your home, ask if your house payment is tax deductible. A portion may be deductible if you use your home for business regularly and substantially and part of your home is used exclusively for regular business use.
  2. If you use your vehicle for business, can you claim a deduction for mileage? If you drive your car exclusively for work, yes. However, if you use the vehicle for both business and personal trips, your prospective preparer should tell you keeping a contemporaneous log of your mileage is critical: no log = no deduction! He or she may also suggest you claim actual expenses or use the IRS’ standard rate.
  3. Can you claim the cost of the vehicle itself? You generally can’t deduct a purchase this large as a capital expense, though a knowledgeable preparer should say you can recover the cost through deductions such as IRC Section 179 or depreciation.
  4. Ask about recovering the cost of other business assets. Again, you should be told you can’t claim these assets all at once, but can recover the costs over time through IRC Section 179 or depreciation deductions.
  5. Is the cost of your work clothes deductible? You can deduct protective clothing required for your job, but other clothing must meet two stipulations:
    1. It must be worn as a condition of employment.
    2. It must be unsuitable for everyday use.

(Examples include uniforms worn by police officers or postal carriers.)

  1. Do you need to keep records of expenses and for how long? Your prospective accountant should say it’s critical you track all expenses to verify your deductions. If the IRS audits you, unsupported deductions will be disallowed. Keep records for a minimum of three years after filing your tax return, or two years after paying any tax due—whichever date is later. (If you’re an employer, employment tax records must be kept for four years.)
  2. Ask if you should make estimated tax payments. If you expect to owe $1,000 or more on your tax return, the candidate’s answer should be “yes.”

Once you’ve asked all these questions you should have a fairly good idea of whether the person you’re interviewing is qualified to be your tax preparer. When you sign your E-file form, you take responsibility for your return. Wisely choosing your preparer won’t guarantee audit-free returns, but will reduce unnecessary risks.

If you’re in the North Florida area and need a full-service CPA for tax, accounting, and consultation services contact the experienced tax accountant team at Patrick & Robinson: or 904-396-5400.

We’d love for you to interview us!

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