How to find a tax preparer

March 1, 2009

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Step 1: Get a referral. Ask your friends, family, and colleagues whether they can recommend a tax preparer. If you are new to an area, check with your state's CPA society, which should be able to help you find a CPA in your area, the Accreditation Council's website for an accredited tax adviser or preparer, or the National Association of Enrolled Agents' directory. Then narrow your list of recommended tax preparers down to two or three candidates.

Step 2: Interview candidates. If you're trying to hire a new tax preparer in the midst of tax season, you might have a hard time finding someone who can sit down with you for a long interview, warns Michael Eisenberg, CPA/PFS and founder of Eisenberg Financial Advisors in Los Angeles. However, most tax preparers should have time for a phone interview of 20 to 30 minutes. If they aren't willing to give you a few minutes on the phone - or want to charge you for the initial interview - look elsewhere.

Step 3: Watch for red flags. Steer clear of anyone who talks about cheating the IRS. Or a preparer who pushes you to take deductions, says you don't have to report certain income, or promises to get a refund that will be a certain percentage of what you earn. Eisenberg also says you should avoid someone whose fees are based on a percentage of your refund.

Step 4: Mention any special circumstances. Let the preparer know about any events, such as a recent divorce or large lump-sum payment from a retirement plan, that will affect your tax situation.

Step 5: Pick a preparer. So maybe even after you've interviewed all your candidates, you're still not sure who you want to hire or are nervous about handing over this important duty to someone else. After all, it's your signature on the form, and you're liable for the information on it - regardless of who prepares it.