Tax Tip Tuesday: Eight Things to Consider When Choosing a Tax Professional

Feb 20, 2024

By Ashlee Ogrzewalla, CFP®, CDFA®, Vice President and Manager of Financial Planning & Marketing
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Preparing and filing tax returns can be time-consuming and difficult for many people. On top of an already complex tax code, keeping up with various annual adjustments—such as earnings thresholds, deductions, etc.—and understanding and evaluating the potential impact of tax changes can be confusing. These challenges may have you thinking about partnering with a tax professional. And if you’re a business owner, your situation may be even more complex.

Working with a tax professional may offer various benefits, including saving time and preventing mistakes. A professional can also help evaluate long-term tax planning strategies and even support you in the unfortunate event of an audit.

If you’re contemplating working with a tax professional, it’s essential to consider these eight factors:

  1. Hire the Right Tax Professional – Common designations for tax professionals include certified public accountant (CPA) and enrolled agent (EA). CPA licenses are state-regulated, and EAs are regulated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Anyone who prepares tax returns for compensation must obtain a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) from the IRS. To learn more about various tax preparer credentials and/or to search for a tax preparer in your area, the IRS provides several helpful resources:
  2. Evaluate and Understand Fees – Tax professionals typically charge fees based on the complexity of your returns, including schedules and additional forms required to complete the return. Costs may include flat fees, a percentage of your refund, hourly fees or a combination. A clear understanding of the potential fees up front is essential when starting this relationship.
  3. Communication Protocol – What is the expectation for communication with your tax preparer? Will you be working directly with the preparer, or will you be speaking to another employee? If another employee, is it a first-year associate or a seasoned practitioner? Choosing a tax preparer who can communicate honestly and transparently and set clear expectations from the start is essential. Ensure you ask these questions to know what you will get as a client paying for a service. Any tax preparer should be available, accessible and responsive. Just like any other relationship—clear communication is important. Ask your practitioner to lay out what to expect.
  4. Audit Support – Ask the preparer if they will support you during an audit and, if so, what additional costs may be involved.
  5. Open for New Clients – Do they have time to dedicate to you and your situation? Can they meet your filing expectations (if any)? Some tax preparers file closer to the deadline regardless of how soon you get them your documents. Other tax professionals may suggest extending your return filing date (sometimes, your situation may require you to extend filing). Either way, it’s essential to be on the same page.
  6. Sharing Documents  Discuss and understand the process used to share documents and review draft tax returns. Many tax professionals use an online document system to upload and share information securely. It’s also important to ask how they plan to protect you from identity theft.
  7. Documents and Records Needed – Ask about what records and documents you’ll need to get together. You may already know the usual forms (W-2, 1099, etc.). Still, other records may be needed, depending on your situation. For example, business receipts, evidence of charitable contributions, property taxes paid and account statements are a few standard additional documents needed for those who choose to itemize instead of taking the standard deduction.
  8. Responsibility of Return – Even when using a tax preparer, you’re still ultimately responsible for the return and filing on time.

Each tax professional has strengths and weaknesses. Evaluate the qualities essential to you, your spouse or your business so you can make an informed decision. Proactively asking a few questions can help ensure you maximize the relationship and get the best advice possible.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES: The information provided is based on internal and external sources that are considered reliable; however, the accuracy of this information is not guaranteed. This piece is intended to provide accurate information regarding the subject matter discussed. It is made available with the understanding that Benjamin F. Edwards is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or tax preparation services; therefore, it is important to consult with your legal and tax professionals for additional guidance tailored to your specific situation.