Surprising Truths About Tax Preparers
Choosing the right tax preparer for your business is a decision best not left until April. A former tax preparer and small business mastermind offers insights into the secret world of tax preparers.
1. All tax preparers are not created equal.
It stands to reason, somewhere in the country is the Worst Tax Preparer. The bad news is you may have already booked your appointment with him. Preparing taxes is a complex activity. So complex that many of us simply throw in the towel, pack up our receipts, and head for the nearest tax office. When you arrive at the office, you fully expect our tax preparer to be highly competent and completely vested in getting you the best deal in town.
Back in my tax preparing days, I worked for one of the big name tax preparation franchises both as a preparer and as a tax return editor. I worked with seasoned professionals and total neophytes. I well remember the first time I stepped up to the plate as a new preparer. I was terrified. Terrified the customer would know I was inexperienced. Terrified I'd make a huge blunder and the customer would pick up on it. Terrified the more experienced preparers would laugh at my mistakes.
I quickly realized that as inexperienced as I was, I still knew way more than my clients did. And because the franchise had great systems, others would be checking and re-checking my work so my mistakes and oversights would be caught before I did any damage to the client.
As a tax return editor, I saw and corrected more mistakes than you would feel comfortable knowing about. Which brings me to a very important point, tax preparation is not a cut and dried, read the manual, do the formulas, follow the instructions, and poof! you're done kind of activity. The tax codes in this country are complex and open to interpretation.
Tax preparers have a wide range of experience from none to grizzled veteran. They also span the continuum from ethical to completely fraudulent. The more complex your return, the more you need a veteran preparer. And if your preparer tells you about this great deduction that you can take and it sounds suspicious to you, listen to your intuition. It's the difference between paying a little bit now or paying a whole lot later.
2. Tax preparers are not business experts.
The only business experts in the world are those who are running successful businesses. Tax preparers are trained to understand taxes. They're trained to know the proper forms and deductions. They're trained to help you with tax planning. They are not trained to understand how business works.
Now, you may have a tax preparer who is also a successful business owner. Many CPA's, accountants, bookkeepers, and tax preparers do run their own businesses. They're in a much better position to help you with your taxes because they understand the day to day challenges of running a business.
Understand that having your taxes prepared by a big name franchise, although it does ensure that your return is accurate, does not mean that your return is prepared in a way that is best for your business. Only a preparer who understands business can prepare a return that works for your business.
3. Hiring a tax preparer doesn't mean you're excused from understanding taxes.
I've seen it so many times. I sit down with a client to talk about finances or taxes. As I talk, the head is nodding, the mouth is saying, "uh huh, uh huh", but what they're really focused on is the pen in their hand. They don't want to understand, they just want to sign off on the paperwork and be done with it. "That's what I hire you for", they say.
Big mistake. I could be sentencing them to time in a federal prison. Trusting someone else to the point where you abdicate all responsibility and have no knowledge of what you're signing or what is being done in your name is a recipe for a big fat slice of disaster. That's how embezzlement happens-I trust Mary completely. Bob always takes care of that. And it's also how business owners end up in trouble-What do you mean he took a deduction for my Chihuahua as a guard dog? Hey, why didn't I get a deduction for my new computer?
You have to know enough about taxes to be able to read your return intelligently so you know what you're signing. You also need to know enough about taxes so you know what your tax preparer needs to know to prepare your return accurately and to your best advantage.
And don't get your education from your buddies. I heard a lot about these "special deductions" you can take. Usually the information is not based on facts or tax codes. It's a conglomeration of bad information that can get you into tax trouble.
4. Your tax preparer shouldn't be the one telling you how your business is doing.
It hits them hard. They couldn't be more shocked if you'd hit them upside the head with a dead fish. "I owe how much?!?!", they gasp. "How can that be? I don't have any money!" Then the desperation sets in. The tax preparer is accused of not doing a good enough job. "You must have missed something." Or, they dig deep trying to think of anything, anything at all, that can lower their tax liability. "Did I mention that vacation, I mean, business trip I took to the Caribbean? That's deductible right?"
If the only time you know how your business is doing is on April 15th, you're doing yourself a huge disservice. If you're not tracking your tax liability and making plans to satisfy that liability, you're in for a very long, painful, tortuous lesson delivered at the hands of the Internal Revenue Service. You will pay. You will pay way more than if you'd planned ahead. And it will take you forever to get caught up.
5. Why getting your tax return prepared shouldn't be an errand you run on your lunch break.
I was in a client's office one day getting her books closed out for the year so she could have her tax return prepared. I overheard a woman in the next office telling someone, "I'm just going to run out and get my taxes done." I was horrified. Having your taxes prepared is not something you just "run out" and get done like an oil change. Good tax preparers are like good hair stylists. They have followings. People pre-book them.
If you just "run out" and have your taxes done, who do you think you'll get as a tax preparer? The best and the brightest? Hardly. You'll get the first year preparers who haven't built up a following. The ones who are fresh out of tax class and generally have no experience preparing tax returns or running a business. The ones who don't have the expertise to know the ins and outs of interpreting tax codes to your best advantage while still keeping you within the law. Sure everyone deserves a chance to gain experience but do you really want to be the first patient a surgeon operates on?
6. Procrastination is your worst enemy.
It's April 14th. You think you probably should get your tax stuff together pretty soon. So, you work late into the night, gathering receipts, pawing through stacks of paper, digging under the seat of your car until finally you've got everything you need. Off you go on your lunch break on April 15th to get your return prepared. Your tax preparer, who has been working at a feverish pitch for weeks, has deep circles under her eyes, her hands are shaking from lack of sleep and too much caffeine, and you notice a small stream of drool running down her chin. "Oh look," she exclaims laughing maniacally, "Another return!". And you think to yourself, "What's her problem?".
You, my procrastinating friend, are her problem. Now she's got to frantically race around trying to keep you out of trouble because you didn't have the courtesy or forethought to be prepared well ahead of the deadline. And then she'll have to listen to you whine because now all of a sudden you have to come up with thousands of dollars that you didn't know you owed.
Do yourself a favor, get your return done early. If you owe money, you don't have to send it until April 15th. At least you'll know that your return was prepared by a tax preparer who wasn't fatigued, you'll know ahead of time what you owe, and you'll have it off your mind so you can focus on other important things. Like getting your oil changed on your lunch break.
Caroline Jordan, MBA, small business mastermind and author of Mastering Cash Flow: A How-To Guide for Solving Small Business Cash Flow Problems, offers bright ideas with real world results for solo entreprenuers. For more small business how-to articles visit http://www.TheJordanResult.com. To get in touch, call Caroline at (207) 583-2630 or send an email to TheJordanResult@adelphia.net.
Send Your Kids To Summer Camp and Write It Off
If you paid someone to care for a child so you could work, you may be able claim a tax credit for child and dependent care expenses on your federal income tax return. This credit is available to people who, in order to work or to look for work, have to pay for child care services for dependents under age 13.
Save Money on Taxes - Let Uncle Sam Pay for Your Fun!
"Deducting Meals and Entertainment"
How To Get An Instant Pay Raise
As a gentleman was leaving my class recently, he wanted me to clarify something I had said. He was making sure that he should take his four or five thousand dollar tax refund and pay off debt.
Taxation of Forgiven Debt: The 1099C & You
Often people fall on hard times and stop paying on credit cards. After a while the account may go to an outside debt collector who might offer a settlement of the debt for 30-40% of theoriginal sum. Once this is paid, the debtor often thinks the matter is closed, but it is not! It is very likely that the creditor will issue a 1099-C. This is a notice to IRS of the forgiven debt. If the debtor does not address this on his return he may get an IRS bill a year or two later with penalties and interest.
Small Business Tax Deduction - Write-Off Bad Debts
Practically every small business has receivables that it cannot obtain from clients. If your small business doesn't have any such receivables, consider yourself lucky. For those small businesses that suffer from uncollected receivables, solace can be taken from the fact you can claim a tax deduction.
The means and types of businesses have transformed with advent of era of e-commerce, resulting in global seller and buyer. The Internet offers consumer choice, business efficiency and recreation.
How Home-Based Businesses Can Avoid Giving Uncle Sam More than His Share
How Home-Based Businesses Can Avoid Giving Uncle Sam More than His Share By Darren Oliver With the rush to file your taxes by April 15th, you probably did not consider the possibility that you overpaid. According to the General Accounting Office, in 1998 alone, there was $311 million paid unnecessarily to the IRS. Do not count on the IRS to tell you if you have overpaid because they are not required to but you can file an amended return for up to three years. Chances are, you either prepare your business taxes yourself or have your tax preparer or CPA does them. There a number of issues surrounding either tax preparation method, which can result in your tax liability being calculated as higher than it actually is including missed deductions, numerous changes in tax laws or being given incorrect advice. As a home-based business professional, there are a number of deductions you are entitled to which many tax preparers often miss. For example, if you run a home office you are entitled to deduct expenses for the percentage of square footage the home office is occupying. Expenses include the combined total of mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, repairs, etc. For example, if 250 square feet of a 1,000 square foot house is being used for a home office, you are entitled to deduct a quarter of your total expenses. Although some deductions may seem minor, over an entire year, they can add up to thousands of dollars that you are unnecessarily paying the IRS. That is money that you could be using to grow your business. Karen McClafflin, owner of home-based Secret Canyon Realty in Colorado Springs, CO, was able to recover $11,000 when her tax preparer failed to include home office and automobile deductions in her past returns. Another area, which causes many business owners to overpay, is being given incorrect advice by their CPA, tax preparer or even the IRS directly. In a poll performed by Money Magazine, the average tax preparer, prepares an average of 480 returns between February 1st and April 15th, that is a lot of returns in a relatively short amount of time which makes it difficult for your return to get the time and attention it deserves. This same poll also found there was an average discrepancy of 300% between what the tax preparers said was due and what was actually due. Moreover, in a poll of 50 professional tax preparers, consisting of 10 basic tax questions, none answered all 10 questions correctly and only 34 got at least half correct. This problem does not extend to just tax preparers or CPA's. In the IRS's 2001 assessment of their own 544 call centers, they found that 50% of the time, their representatives gave incorrect or insufficient advice. Whether you do your taxes yourself and had to call the IRS for clarification on an issue or your CPA did, odds are the answer was not accurate. The United States tax law is one of the most complex in the world. Not to mention, tax laws change every year and have changed tremendously in the last couple of years. Even the best tax preparer, CPA or even IRS representative can easily make a mistake or, forget to use an exemption which could reduce your tax liability. If you have not yet filed your taxes, it is a good idea to get a second opinion from an independent source. The extra money and time spent in doing this could save you thousands. Look for someone or a company who: · Has sufficient years preparing home-based business tax returns · Prepares less than the average number of returns between January and April so that your return gets sufficient time and attention. · Have had clients get a second opinion. In addition, talk to those clients to get there first hand insight. · Is willing to pay for a second review of your tax returns to ensure accuracy. · Is willing to take MSN's online Tax IQ Test at http://moneycentral.msn.com/investor/calcs/n_taxq/main.asp. Although designed for consumers, this test contains basic tax information that even junior level tax preparers should know. Just as you trust a surgeon with your life, you trust this individual or company with your money and confidential information. Be highly selective and do not be afraid to put them through a rigorous qualification. If they are not willing to participate in your qualification then either they do not know their stuff or, your business is not that important to them. If you already filed your taxes or think you might have missed out on deductions, have been given bad advice or failed to take advantage of a tax law change which could reduce your liability for previous tax years, what can you do? The good news is that by law, the IRS is required, for up to three years, to review your returns and records as many times as needed to find errors. You have the same three years to get a second opinion and file an amended return. In fact, in 2002, 3.3 million taxpayers filed an amended return. Samuel Rowley, owner of Muffler Masters in Colorado Springs, was able to recover $14,500 through the filing of an amended return when it was found that he overpaid FICA and payroll taxes. You may worry that an amended return will trigger an audit however; the IRS itself admits this is not the case. In 2002 alone, 3.3 million taxpayers filed an amended return. The IRS is not the big, bad agency we used to know. In fact, statistics show that audits are down and continue to decline. Businesses throughout the U.S. overpay their taxes to the tune of billions each year and your money could be part of the billions that is overpaid. When it comes to your taxes, always get a second opinion to ensure you are not paying more than you should and, you can even hit pay dirt by looking back.
Access to E-records by Taxing Authorities: A Case for Pakistan (Part I)
Background issues of access to records
Correspondence From The IRS ? Yikes!
It's a moment every person dreads. You pick up the mail and there is an envelope from the IRS. It's not a refund check. What do you do?
I Havent Filed a Tax Return with IRS in Years, What Do I Do?
In elementary school, kids come up with creative excuses why they did not bring in their homework. "My dog ate it" or "It was stolen by invisible space aliens" might be given as a reason why something was not turned in on time. Don't try those excuses with the IRS! Don't blame divorce, business failures, or family troubles either, because except under extreme circumstances, they won't register with the taxman.
Taxing Overseas Firms for SOX Compliance
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, also called the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002 was signed into law on July 30, 2002 by President Bush. In the aftermath of Enron, Arthur Andersen, Global Crossing, and WorldCom, SOX promises greater corporate accountability and transparency. Named after Senator Paul Sarbanes and Representative Michael G. Oxley, SOX focuses on the importance of ethical behavior in corporate governance-across the United States and now?overseas.
Small Businesses Filing Amended Federal Tax Returns to Recover Money
Small Businesses Filing Amended Federal Tax Returns to Recover Money By Darren Oliver April 15th may be gone but, but certainly not forgotten ? especially if you, like millions of small businesses, unknowingly overpaid your federal taxes and can recover money by filing an amended return. According to the IRS tax code, you have three years from the filing date for the tax year in question to file an amended return. For example, if returns for the 2003 tax year were filed on March 1, 2004, the taxpayer has until March 1, 2007 to file an amended return. This same rule also applies if the taxpayer feels they have made errors resulting in a balance. Most business owners either prepare their business taxes themselves or have a tax preparer or accountant do them. With either method, the tax liability can be calculated as higher than it actually is because of missed deductions, unrecognized changes in tax laws or just plain being given bad advice. There are a number of applicable deductions which many tax preparers often miss from home office deductions to self-employed health insurance to personal assets converted to business use. Although some deductions may seem minor, over an entire year, they can add up to thousands of dollars. Another area, which causes many businesses to overpay, is being given incorrect advice by their tax preparer or even the IRS directly. In a poll performed by Money Magazine, the average tax preparer produces an average of 480 returns between February 1 and April 15, making it difficult for each return to get the time and attention it deserves. This same poll also found there was an average discrepancy of 300% between what the tax preparers said was due and what was actually due. Furthermore, in the IRS's 2001 assessment of their own call centers, they found that 50% of the time, their representatives gave incorrect or insufficient advice. Whether a business owner does their taxes themselves and had to call the IRS for clarification on an issue or a CPA did, odds are the answer was not correct. The United States tax law is one of the most complex in the world. Not to mention, tax laws change every year and have changed tremendously in the last couple of years. Even the best tax preparer, CPA or even IRS representative can, like all humans do, easily make a mistake. In 2002 alone, 3.3 million taxpayers filed an amended return. Samuel Rowley, owner of Muffler Masters in Colorado, was able to recover $14,500 through the filing of an amended return when it was found that he overpaid FICA and payroll taxes. Another small business owner, Karen McClafflin, owner of home-based Secret Canyon Realty, was able to recover $11,000 when her tax preparer failed to include home office and automobile deductions in her past returns. Why is it that when faced with a life-threatening surgery a second opinion is immediately sought after but, when trusting thousands or millions of dollars to an individual or entity, it's done without question? Businesses must get a second opinion, whether it is done before or after the return is filed, to ensure they are not overpaying or simply to ensure their returns are accurate in all aspects. If not, they could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table.
Back To School ? Educators Deduct School Expenses
As teachers and students head back to school following a glorious summer, it's time to remind teachers to organize 2004 school expenses. Under a temporary tax code change, teachers can deduct certain school-related expenses from adjusted gross income.
History Of The Federal Income Tax
The powers of Congress, and the limitations set upon those powers, are set forth in Article I of the United States Constitution. Section 8 specifies both the power to collect, "Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises," and the requirement that, "Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States."
Where to Find Tax Breaks for Your Home Based Business
April 15th looms in front of most people every year like a big, full moon full influencing a tax based frenzy, but knowing where to find tax breaks for your home based business can make that frenzy a little less frantic and more beneficial to you and your home based business. Finding tax breaks for your home based business is not overly difficult, but make sure you discuss tax breaks for your home based business with the person doing your taxes.
1031 Exchange Rules and Requirements
Following is a reproduction of the IRS's rules and requirements for 1031 tax deferred exchanges with regards to real property. If you have any questions regarding the sale of your real property or questions about what qualifies for a 1031 exchange or not, please consult your tax professional.
The Seven Deadly Tax Sins: Commonly Missed Deductions
It's that time again, the April 15 tax deadline is looming large. If youre like most people, you havent gathered all of your tax records, let alone filled your return.
Home Business Tax Tips
If you have recently started an Internet or home business, your probably a little intimidated by having to submit a tax return and the possibilities of being audited. Simply follow these guidelines and rest assured that filing your next tax return will go smoothly.
Truly Bizarre Taxes: The Tax on Illegal Drugs
One can never underestimate the enthusiasm that politicians have for trying to hunt up tax revenues. The creativity of some politicians can lead to bizarre taxes and unfortunate results.
Failure To Pay Employment Taxes ? Penalties
As an employer, you must pay employment taxes if you have employees. Fail to pay and the IRS will rain all over your parade.
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