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Preparing for Tax Preparation
Tiffany J. Morisue
Being prepared for your tax appointment can really pay off in terms of maximizing deductions and minimizing tax as well as lowering fees charged by your preparer! Additionally, you should be able to walk away from your tax appointment with peace of mind that your returns are complete and accurate and maybe even with some tax savings advice that you can really use.
Finding a Preparer
First of all, finding a tax professional to work with is a very important decision. A tax professional is not only a tax preparer, but someone who can provide you with advice on tax issues and assist you with tax planning. You want to find someone who is not only professional and competent, but who is also a good fit for you and your specific needs.
Selecting a preparer solely based on price is not necessarily in your best interest. Preparers who are preparing many returns at lower prices may be more concerned with the quantity of returns prepared than the quality of the returns prepared. Returns that are rushed through may have errors or omissions which you are ultimately responsible for. A thorough, accurate return where deductions have been maximized legitimately should be your primary tax preparation goal.
If possible, it is best to assess your situation and look for a preparer early. This will allow you more time to find a preparer that is a good fit for you and to possibly even take advantage of a tax planning consultation that could save you more money in taxes. Keep in mind that if you wait to call around until tax season mid-January through mid-April, it may be challenging to find someone who will be willing or able to speak with you over the phone in much detail about your specific situation.
If you find that it is tax season already and you have not decided on the tax professional that you will be using, there are a few ways that you can find out more about some of them without taking up much of their time on the phone. If you have access to the Internet, you can check out websites of local tax professionals to find out more about their businesses, their credentials, and the services that they offer. You can also check with family and friends to get some referrals.
One last point about finding a tax preparer that you really need to know – they are not all the same! Did you know that only a few states require any kind of licensing or registration of preparers Thus, in most states, just about anyone can open up a tax preparation business. Did you know that they all do not have full-time, year-round hours This is important in case you have questions or problems after your taxes are prepared. You should do your homework when checking out potential preparers - find out about their licensing/credentials, education, experience, and availability throughout the year. Two professionals that you should consider in your search are Certified Public Accountants CPAs and Enrolled Agents EAs. They each must meet strict criteria to obtain their designations as well as adhere to a strict code of professional ethics and meet annual continuing professional education requirements.
Getting Prepared and Organized
Once you find a preparer that you want to work with, you will want to be well prepared and organized to ensure that you get the most from his/her time and service. Being organized and prepared can reduce not only your tax liability, but your tax preparation fees as well.
Before proceeding with the actual pre-meeting preparation steps and specific items that you should bring to your tax appointment, it should be noted that all preparers do not actually meet with their clients face to face to prepare their returns. Some just have clients drop off or mail their information. Once the returns have been prepared, they mail the returns to their clients or have the clients pick them up. Would you feel comfortable not meeting with your family physician for your child’s annual physical exam There is so much more you can get out of the tax preparation process by meeting and working with the preparer!
The following are steps that you should take before meeting with your tax preparer:
As for some specific items that you will not want to forget to bring to your appointment:
If you are not sure if something has tax implications, bring the related document or information and ask!
Furthermore, if you are a new client to your preparer, you will need the following items/information as well:
In addition to the above listed items, your preparer may have some additional required items, such as a valid state issued identification card or driver’s license for each taxpayer.
Remember, even though the preparer bears some responsibility, you are ultimately responsible for your tax return. So finding a great preparer and being prepared and organized will help ensure that you recognize the greatest tax savings possible and that your tax appointment goes smoothly!
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