December means holidays and gifts, but what do you get in January? Bills from your holiday blowouts, and arrival of W-2s, 1099s and other tax documents. For many people, the tax filing process can be daunting and full of confusing aspects like itemized deductions, endless forms and tens of thousands of pages of tax codes. Tax advisors are available for hire to help taxpayers navigate the tax filing process -- and they're not hard to find.
Decide exactly what you want your tax advisor to help you with. Tax advisors can aid with everything from tax preparation to tax filing and also help with tax planning, where the advisor can show you legal ways on lowering the amounts of taxes you pay.
Research the various databases of certified tax advisors. The National Association of Enrolled Agents, the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation or your state’s CPA society all have lists of qualified tax advisors.
Ask family members or friends for referrals. Try to ask family members and friends who may have the same tax situation as you do, so that you can find a tax advisor that best fits your needs.
Decide on what type of tax advisor you want to hire. Tax advisors can work in a variety of settings including for their own firms, tax preparation chains like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt or Certified Public Accountancy firms. Tax advisors can also have experience in different tax specialties, including small business, real estate investing and tax planning, so if you have a special tax situation be sure to choose a tax advisor with knowledge in that area.
Check the tax advisor’s credentials and look for an enrolled agent. In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service passed a number of requirements tax preparers must adhere to that help protect the tax payer from fraud and poor tax preparation. Enrolled agents must pass tests, fulfill continuing education requirements and are licensed to represent clients for the IRS.
Interview potential tax advisors. Once you have a list of several choices, interview each one to see who will best fit your needs. Kiplinger suggests asking several key questions, including how much they charge, their credentials and whether they back up their work in case you get audited.
- If you cannot afford a tax advisor, the IRS has a list of free and reduced-fee advisors and tax preparers available on their website.
- Be wary of tax advisors who are willing to cheat the system. If they tell you that you do not have to claim certain income, make up deductions or promise you a certain amount of a refund, do not use them. It is not worth the risk of an audit for a few extra dollars back in your refund.
Lindsey Thompson began her writing career in 2001. Her work has been published in the Cincinnati Art Museum's "Member Magazine" and "The Ohio Journalist." You'll also find her work on websites like Airbnb, Chron.com, and USAToday.com. Thompson holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.