Some people feel comfortable preparing their own income tax returns. When you want an expert’s guidance to save money and make sure you get every deduction possible, a tax consultant will fit the bill. Take the time to do your homework as you try to find a tax consultant. The Internal Revenue Service will hold you responsible for all information contained in your tax returns, so choose a qualified and reputable professional you can trust.
Determine your needs. If you need just basic tax preparation assistance, a certified financial planner may be perfect for you. A CFP has a license issued by the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards Inc. and generally has the expertise to provide tax assistance. A CPA possesses more taxation, accounting and auditing training than a CFP, enabling this professional to provide more in-depth services. In addition, a CPA must meet state licensing requirements -- a specific number of college credits and experience working in public accounting -- pass a CPA exam and perform continuing education to maintain the CPA license. Some financial professionals may also have chartered financial analyst credentials. This means that the professional has additional investment management skills and has passed a series of difficult exams. An enrolled agent must pass a rigorous IRS test that certifies training and knowledge in individual and business income tax returns. If you have complicated finances, a tax attorney may be the best choice for you due to the advanced legal knowledge and education possessed by tax attorneys. All of these professionals will require ongoing consultation -- they are not one-step visits at tax time.
Talk with family, friends and colleagues and request recommendations for tax consultants. If you know people with similar financial situations to yours, ask for the name of their tax consultants. Visit the National Association of Tax Consultants website and search the database for a tax consultant near you. Check local business directories to find the names of tax professionals you might hire. Visit the Better Business Bureau website and enter your local zip code. Search the database as a consumer to find tax consultants located near you with a positive BBB standing.
Interview at least three to five different tax consultants to find one who will serve your needs. Bring your most recent income tax returns with you and spend a brief time speaking with the consultant. Ask questions about the consultant’s experience, qualifications and certifications. Ask about outsourcing and verify exactly who will be performing work on your behalf. Ask about retirement planning and tax deductions, but be wary about consultants who promise extreme refunds – any erroneous or illegal information on your tax returns is your responsibility. Ask about rates and about how the consultant charges for services. Ask for references, contact information from professional organizations and testimonials from satisfied clients. Answer any questions asked of you.
Contact the references and professional organizations of the tax consultants you interviewed to verify qualifications. The reference contacts should verify that a consultant is trustworthy, ethical and qualified. The professional organizations should verify that a consultant has earned the credential and whether the professional has maintained ethical standards, has performed continuing educational requirements and remains in good standing with the organization.
- A CFP generally charges the smallest hourly rate. A CPA charges slightly more than a CFP. An enrolled agent and a tax attorney charge the highest hourly rates.
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