Each year millions of taxpayers choose whether to file their taxes with a tax professional or do their taxes themselves by various DIY (Do it yourself) tax preparer software. But for the focus of this article we will be talking about the taxpayers who choose to file their taxes with a professional. Individuals have lots of options when looking for a tax professional so where do they begin? How does a person choose the right tax accountant?
Many individuals think that if they choose to have a professional file their taxes then they have to have a Certified Public Accountant or CPA prepare and sign their tax return. This is simply false and most taxpayers are no aware of this. Small business taxpayers are even more likely to file their taxes with a CPA because they think that this is the Gold standard or best option or they are more knowledgeable than every other tax professional out there but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When you should seek out a CPA?
Most CPAs often work for medium to large companies, not necessarily in the state where they hold their license. Ethically, a CPA practicing outside their licensed state can’t use the CPA designation. Corporations pay more for in-state licensed CPAs to sign tax returns, especially in external audits. However, for individual or small business taxpayers, it’s not mandatory to have a licensed CPA. Many qualified tax professionals can handle your tax return efficiently. Interestingly, most CPA firms, even well-known ones, employ non-CPA tax preparers who may use a partner’s name for marketing. The lesson is that competence matters more than credentials, as illustrated by a story about a doctor with a prestigious degree who struggled with communication.
What Matters Most?
There are many successful people in the world that have done extraordinarily well for themselves and either graduated from a college or university that nobody has ever heard of, is not top tier, or they do not even have a degree. According to the website bustle.com, there is an extensive list of very wealthy and successful people who graduated from very mediocre universities by other people’s standards like: Oprah Winfrey – she went to Tennessee State University, David Letterman – Ball State University, Steven Spielberg – Cal State University, Long Beach, Lyndon B. Johnson – SW Texas State Teachers College, Ronald Reagan – Eureka College in Illinois.
I guarantee you that most people have never heard of these colleges and universities but there are some very wealthy and successful people on this list. Here is a list of wealthy individuals who don’t even have a college degree: Mark Zuckerberg – Founder of Facebook, Bill Gates – Founder of Microsoft, Steve Jobs – Founder of Apple, Richard Branson – Billionaire and founder of Virgin, and the list can go on and on. According to the IRS at IRS.gov, any tax professional with an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) is authorized to prepare federal tax returns and this is also true in most states. Additionally, I personally know many CPAs that are not even familiar with federal or state taxes. They solely focus on accounting. That is why Fortune 500 companies have tax departments. They have a completely dedicated department of professionals who specialize in only tax.
Different types of tax
One professional may be specialized or familiar with sales tax while another may be more focused on federal tax or international tax. When I worked at Office Depot in the tax department in 2010, I worked closely with an accountant who was a CPA and when I would ask him tax questions he would always say “I don’t know, you would have to speak to this particular person in the tax department”. Also, just because someone is an expert in a certain area of expertise still doesn’t mean that they are a walking encyclopedia. The US tax code contains 6,871 pages so there is no human that can possibly have that much information in their head, be familiar with every topic or have that much information on the tip of your tongue. The fact of the matter is that any topic varies in complexity and may take some research to become familiar with and provide an accurate answer.
How to Choose the Right Tax Accountant
In my accounting experience, clients often expect expertise on complex topics, which can be unrealistic. Similar to medical specialists, tax professionals can have different specializations. If you’re not in need of a CPA for your taxes, what should you look for in a tax preparer or accountant, and how do you find the right person?
- Search the web for an accountant or CPA near you
- Call 3 or 4 different professionals and either meet with them virtually or in their office
- Ask him or her what their onboarding process is like and ask them other questions you may have
- You need to get a sense of comfort or ease of good feeling from this person
- Ask them how much experience they have in taxes and accounting – ask them about their background
- Ask them about their memberships and credentials
- Ask them to review or audit your previously filed tax return – most professionals will do this at no charge
- Check online reviews; they reveal a lot about the relationship you’re likely to have.
- Look for a small firm or a one- or two-person accountant firm
- Ensure their software and apps are reputable and able to keep your personal information secure
How to choose the right accountant is crucial. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a solid start. An accountant’s diverse background signifies capability and intelligence. Navigating taxes is like solving a puzzle; seek someone adept at research, analysis, and problem-solving—skills honed but not taught. Resourcefulness is key.
Individuals who admit to needing research have integrity and intelligence. A varied accounting background expands their knowledge base, making them more adept at figuring things out accurately. When hiring a tax professional, go beyond credentials; competence varies in all professions, especially in accounting and tax.
Contact MJ Tax Services
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