By Debbie DiVito, CPA, Content Manager, Women & Co.
While there are a few ways to file your taxes on your own -- you can mail the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) your paper filing, e-file through the IRS, download tax-filing software, or file online through a professional tax services company like H&R Block® -- in some cases, you might decide it's best to work with a professional. For some, it's a matter of time, and for others, it's a matter of complexity. But whether you just don't have time to crank through the mechanics of filing your return or you've experienced a life-event with complex tax implications, hiring a tax professional usually isn't cheap. Here are a few tips for having a constructive conversation and making the most of your time together.
1. Choose the right tax preparer for you. Need help choosing a tax pro? Check out the IRS' list of
"Points to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Tax Preparer."
2. Come prepared. Gather important documents and get organized. Don't know what you'll need? While the specific documents you need will depend on your particular situation, you can get an idea of the common items you might need to file your tax return on the H&R Block website.
3. Be prepared to get personal. Many major life changes (like getting divorced or sending your kids to college) have tax implications. This information may help your tax preparer determine your eligibility for deductions.
4. Ask your preparer to review your prior year's return. Mistakes do happen. For example, you may have been eligible for a medical deduction last year, but didn't take it on your prior year's return. If your tax preparer finds an error, you'll need to look into amending your return. Many major tax service companies will amend and re-file for a reasonable fee. Otherwise, you can bring the issue to the attention of the original preparer, and oftentimes they'll re-file your return for free.
5. Take advantage of your tax pro's wealth of knowledge. You might be paying your tax professional to file the previous year's return, but while you're there, ask which tax laws may be beneficial to you in the coming year, as well as for tips on planning for next year's return.
6. Get a clear understanding of the fees upfront. Ask for an estimate. Remember, the cost should be a fee based on the preparation and filing services. Avoid preparers whose fees are based on the amount of refund you receive. Remember, even if your return is prepared by someone else, as the taxpayer, you are responsible for what's on it once it's submitted to the IRS.
7. Learn your risk of being audited by the IRS. Ask your tax pro what role he or she will play in the event you are audited. Some tax professionals may guarantee your return is error proof, and even offer to pay your fees up to a certain amount in the event the IRS finds a mistake. If your tax pro makes this type of promise, make sure it's documented.
8. Don't be afraid to try a new tax pro from time to time. As with doctors, lawyers and other service professionals, you may prefer to work with the same people from year to year. But switching things up and trying a new tax professional can't hurt, and might even help identify mistakes on a prior year's return.
About the Author:
As Women & Co.'s Content Manager, Debbie is responsible for creating original editorial content for Women & Co. In her role, Debbie couples more than seven years' experience supporting clients in the financial services industry with her passion for writing about important financial concepts in a way that is both unintimidating and fun. Debbie is a Certified Public Accountant, has undergraduate degrees in Finance, Multinational Business Operations, and Spanish from The Florida State University, and holds a Masters degree in Accounting from The University of Virginia.