I want to start off by reminding everyone that what I write here is my opinion only. It in no way reflects official tax policy or the opinions of my employer.
In this blog I intend to provide real world tax advice, as well as my opinion on tax policy and administration. I do not intend to pull any punches and hope to be both entertaining and informative. With Tax Season upon us, I wanted to start with my best advice if you have anything more than the simplest of tax returns.
Try Another Way to File!
What? You mean even if I'm perfectly satisfied I should try something else? That's right. The world is full of crappy software, terrible tax preparers, over-priced idiots, free morons and useless web sites. Find someone or some way that you can have your taxes done or re-checked without the obligation of paying for it if you aren't satisfied.
If it's a person, ask upfront if you have to file with them if you are not satisfied with the results. If the answer is no, walk out. If you currently use software, get your bottom line result, write it down before filing, and then see if a tax preparer can beat it. Paying $200 more to get $1000 is a no-brainer.
Did I mention I would be shamelessly self-plugging in this blog. I will check a completed tax return completely for free (obviously if I find more money, we can talk about paying me to amend it.) I will do a tax return, give you the results, tell you the fees, and then give it all back to you if you don't want me to file. E-mail: email@example.com
How do you find a good tax-preparer?
Step One: Find an Enrolled Agent. These guys (like me) have been rigorously examined by the IRS and licensed to represent taxpayers at IRS audits. It doesn't guarantee a great tax preparer, but it's a good start. You can also look for a CPA, make sure he or she does a fair amount of tax prep business and not just accounting in general.
Step Two: Ask how long they've been doing it, how many taxes they do every year, and how many hours of training they have. Listen to their answers, as well as how well they deliver them. If they sound rehearsed or dumb, walk away.
Step Three: Give them 20 minutes preparing your taxes. Tell them up front that you reserve the right to walk away at any time. If they ask intelligent questions, that's a good sign. If they're reading questions from a computer screen (as opposed to asking you logical questions and then inputting the data - it's a who's the boss thing - the computer or the tax preparer) run away. A great sign is that they ask you a dozen questions and then input lots of data while asking you more, as opposed to one question, one entry (obviously this does not apply to things like name, birthday, SSN.)
Step Three is really where the rubber meets the road. If your tax guy doesn't seem comfortable, and make you comfortable, walk away!
Then, once you find someone great - stick with them (but don't be afraid to test drive someone else once in a while.)