Having the right team of advisors is critical to achieving your financial goals faster than you ever thought possible. For most people, taxes are the single biggest expense. This makes finding the right tax preparer for your team extremely important.
HOW DO YOU FIND A TAX PREPARER THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
First, not all tax preparers are the same. I previously wrote an article about this last year titled: “Tax Returns – Are they really all created equal”, and you may be as surprised as other readers about just how much tax return preparation can vary.
In fact, I calculated the average savings I typically find from annual tax savings, reducing professional fees and audit assessments. In total, the average savings are:
– $23,750 Annual tax savings
– $5,000 Audit defense savings
– $10,000 Reduced audit assessment savings
– $50,000 Reduced legal fees
– $3,000 Reduced tax return preparation fees
This is a total average potential savings of $91,750! Your tax preparer does make a difference! How much more could you do with these savings?
Second, the right tax preparer for you depends on what is important to you. Take a minute to answer this question:
WHAT MAKES YOUR TAX RETURN SUCCESSFUL?
How you answer this question will impact what type of tax preparer you need on your team. I’ve asked this questions to clients, prospects and colleagues. I have compiled the most popular answers and what it means to you as you find the tax preparer for your team.
ANSWER #1: Paying the least amount of tax legally
Your tax preparer needs to:
– Know the tax law very well and know how to be creative legally.
– Ask you a lot of questions about your situation in order to understand your situation and goals.
– Have a review process where at least one other person reviews your return solely for the purpose of how to reduce your taxes legally.
HERE ARE SEVEN (7) QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOUR TAX PREPARER TO DETERMINE IF IT’S A GOOD FIT:
Q1: Can you tell me about the other ___________ (your industry) you service?
A: Your tax preparer needs to know how the tax law applies to your situation. Having other clients in your industry or with similar investments indicates that the tax preparer is likely to be familiar with the tax laws that impact you.
Q2: Who will be working on my tax return?
A: It’s very common (and a good business practice) for tax preparers to have staff prepare your tax return. You want to make sure the other people working on your return have the same level of expertise.
Q3: What is your tax return review process?
A: Tax preparers who are focused on reducing your taxes will have this built into their review process. Usually it involves having another experienced tax preparer review the return solely for the purpose of finding ways to reduce your taxes.
Q4: What would you have done differently on my past tax return?
A: Show the tax preparer you are interviewing your prior year tax return. Creative tax preparers will be able to give you at least one idea of what you can do to reduce your taxes by looking at your tax return for just a few minutes. If it’s creativity you are after, this is a great question to ask! But don’t expect the tax preparer to give you all the details right then and there – that’s why you pay them!
Q5: How much can you save me in taxes?
A: While it’s difficult for any tax preparer to answer this in just a few minutes of looking at your past tax return, it is possible for them to know if they can save you taxes after spending 30 minutes with you.
Q6: What deadlines do you impose on clients?
A: This may seem like an odd question for minimizing your taxes but it has a direct impact. If your tax preparer allows you to provide your information a week before the tax return is due, it’s very unlikely that the tax preparer will have the time to focus on your return to truly minimize your taxes. Tax preparers that want to reduce your taxes want your tax return information early and will communicate that to you.
Q7: What recent tax law changes should I be aware of?
A: To minimize your taxes, your tax preparer needs to know the tax law inside and out, which includes the latest changes. Your tax preparer needs to be able to answer this question without hesitation.
ANSWER #2: Minimizing tax return preparation fees Your tax preparer needs to:
– Focus on the tax work and recommend someone else for the non-tax work (such as bookkeeping).
– Request tax information in a certain format.
– Require you to input your information online.
HERE ARE TWO (2) QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOUR TAX PREPARER REGARDING MINIMIZING RETURN PREPARATION FEES TO DETERMINE IF IT’S A GOOD FIT:
Q1: What can I do to reduce my tax return preparation fees?
A: To minimize your tax return preparation fees, your tax preparer always needs to have your fees in mind. Ask your tax preparer what you can do to reduce your fees. If you don’t get at least 2 suggestions, your tax preparer probably isn’t thinking about how to keep your fees low.
Common suggestions include:
– Have someone other than the tax preparer do your bookkeeping. I am always skeptical when a tax preparer does the bookkeeping. First, they either charge an arm and leg or if they reduce their rates to accommodate you, it means they don’t spend their time entirely on tax issues, which could indicate their tax skills aren’t up to par.
– Organize your information. Don’t bring your tax preparer a shoebox! A tax preparer that is really focused on keeping your fees down will have forms, spreadsheets and other tools available for you to use to organize your tax return information.
– Enter your information online. Many tax preparers now require clients to input their information online. Accurately entered information can help reduce fees. Caution: Information that is entered inaccurately can increase your fees!
Q2: What is your fee structure?
A: Your tax preparer needs to be able to answer this question with confidence. Any wavering could indicate that the tax preparer knows the fees are too high for you but just doesn’t want to tell you. Unfortunately in these situations, you find out too late!
ANSWER #3: Reducing audit risk Your tax preparer needs to:
– Know the tax law very well and how to properly report your activity.
– Understand the IRS’s current “hot buttons” or “red flags.”
– Offer an audit defense plan.
HERE ARE FOUR (4) QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOUR TAX PREPARER IN REGARDS TO REDUCING AUDIT RISK TO DETERMINE IF IT’S A GOOD FIT:
Q1: How many audits have you been through and what triggered the audit?
A: The most important part of this question is what triggered the audit. If it was triggered by how something was reported, then that may be something the tax preparer had control over (and may be a bad sign for you).
Q2: What was the outcome of the audits you have been through?
A: A return can be randomly selected for audit or selected because of a certain activity (even though it was reported correctly). So it’s important to understand the outcome of the audits. Was additional tax assessed or were there no changes? Additional tax may indicate that something was not reported properly.
Q3: Do you offer an audit defense plan?
A: Tax preparers that are confident in their work will offer an “insurance” program that covers their professional fees to handle your audit if your return is selected for audit.
Q4: What is your tax return review process?
A: Although tax returns can be selected randomly for audit, many are selected due to how items are reported on the tax return. Tax preparers who are focused on reducing audit risk will have a review process that includes another tax preparer reviewing your return solely for accuracy of reporting.