It is often said that the only sure things are death and taxes. But, although, death may be pretty straight forward, the same cannot be said of taxes. With the constantly changing rules and interpretation of the rules, many taxpayers are finding it more and more difficult to understand the complexities of the tax system.
More and more taxpayers are turning turn to professional tax advisors. Even those who previously prepared their own returns are now looking for professional help. Many people, for instance, have a poor grasp of the tax implications of their investments or the impact that life events have on their taxes. The modern tax preparer can, therefore, play a very integral part in the financial planning and wealth creation process.
But how do you choose the tax advisor who is right for you?
The role of the tax advisor/preparer has evolved significantly. No longer is the professional tax preparer someone who just inputs numbers into a tax software program and files a return. Instead, today’s tax preparer must be able to give tax advice in addition to tax preparation services. There are many factors used to choose a tax professional. In my many years of experience in the tax preparation industry, here are some of the main ones.
1. Knowledge and expertise. First and foremost, taxpayers want to feel comfortable that their tax preparers know what they are doing and are able to help them in their particular situation. Although, most tax returns are pretty straight forward, various events can happen, throughout the year, which have a profound impact on the taxpayers’ circumstances. Not only must tax preparers understand the tax rules and the most recent changes, they must also know about investments, employment rules, business structures and industry specific rules. Furthermore they should have the expertise to apply tax planning strategies which are relevant to their clients’ situations. The more knowledgeable the tax preparer, the more they are able to help their clients.
2. Timeliness, reliability and accessibility. Income taxes are required to be filed by a deadline. This leaves a very short time in which to collect all the related information, prepare and file the return. It is very important that the tax preparer respond to their clients needs in a timely manner. Invariably delays do happen from time to time, but in many cases the taxpayer still expects to meet the deadline. The more reliable and accessible the tax preparer is, the easier it is for the taxpayer to meet his or her objectives and the better the relationship.
3. Ethical and moral. Most of us hate to pay more taxes, but we hate it even more when we get in trouble with the tax authorities. The tax advisor has a responsibility to adhere to the laws and to guide his clients in an ethical manner. The ultimate responsibility rests with the tax payer, but over the years, tax authorities are holding tax preparers increasingly more liable in their dealings with their clients. A good tax preparer should adhere to a code of ethics similar to other financial professionals.
4. Ability to resolve problems. When a tax payer runs into a problem, the first person she turns to is, usually, the person who prepared her tax return. In most cases, I’ve found, the problem is easily resolved, but there are times when the matter is more complicated. The tax preparer must be prepared to help settle disputes with the appropriate tax authorities on the client’s behalf as well as get the information necessary to make a good decision.
SUMMARY. Choosing the right tax professional is all about building relationships based on trust. Today’s tax preparers are not only relied upon for their knowledge and expertise, but they are expected to be ethical, reliable, accessible, and timely and be able to resolve any tax related disputes. Establishing good communications is a key ingredient to building trust while selecting the professional who is right for you.