Tax Professional vs a Tax Preparer

Do you have a tax professional or are they just a tax preparer?

It’s that time of the year again. Time to file that lovely tax return and as usual you cannot turn on television, open your email or browse the internet without being bombarded with advertisements from individuals or tax preparation programs that say “choose me” or “you need us” WHY…… “because we are the best”. And if that is not enough as you drive around town, new tax offices are popping up on every corner. Where did all these people come from? Everyone knows someone who “DO TAXES” but what does that really mean? You can “DO” your taxes. You can buy a tax preparation program take all your tax documents (W2, 1099, K-1 etc.) plug the numbers into the program and pump out tax return, but do you really trust that you have prepared it correctly. So you file the return and pray you don’t get audited by the IRS. Well when you place your tax information into the hands of someone who “DO TAXES” that is what you are getting.
These are the individuals that fall into the category of the tax preparer. They have purchased the right to use a tax preparation program, learned how to use it and learned just enough tax law to prepare tax returns and make some quick cash during tax season. At the end of tax season they shut their doors, roll up the side-walk and you don’t hear from them again until next year.

By now you’re asking yourself “How do I know I have the right person preparing my taxes?” Answering this question is not easy. With all the tax preparation chains out there you would think that tax professionals are a dime a dozen. But the fact of the matter is that nearly all of the individuals that work at your tax preparation chains are NOT tax professionals. They are hired and trained on how to “Do Taxes”. When they are not at the tax office they are your plumber, electrician, a sales associate at the local retail store, hairstylist/barber, etc. When tax season is over you may never see them again. Your tax professionals are individuals who take the time to learn and study the tax law and the internal revenue code. The key is to ask the right questions that will help you to be reassured that you are dealing with a tax professional and not a tax preparer. Questions you may ask are “Are you authorized to practice before the IRS?”, “How much experience do you have preparing taxes?”, “Are you familiar with the changes in the tax code?”, “If the IRS examines my return, what is your policy on assisting me?” For the small business owners “Do you have experience working with my line of business?” or “Do you have experience working with businesses that are similar in size and type?” The tax professional will answer these questions and make you feel comfortable with their level of training and education. The tax professional’s services do not end when your taxed are filed. It is a year round process. Once the return has been filed, your tax professional should sit down with you to prepare for next year’s return.