A reader: It’s tax time. Until now I have done my own returns but my financial life has changed quite a bit in the last year. I got married and bought a house. I’ve always done my own taxes and have never been audited. Now, I’m thinking that I need to find a professional tax preparer this year to make sure I get the maximum deductions. I’m not sure where to start and not even sure I have all the receipts I need. Where do I start?
Action Line: The very fact that you had a year of financial changes and are thinking about your financial records is a good indicator that now may be the time to move up to a professional tax preparer.
The first thing you should do when deciding which preparer/company to use is to find someone who listens to you. According to Don O’Dell, CPA and chief financial officer for O’Dell Cross in Bakersfield, a good tax professional wants to learn about your personal situation during the initial phone conversation or consultation before fees are even discussed. Once they understand what your tax year was like (in your case, getting married and purchasing a home), they can advise you about the records you will need to gather and bring in for your tax return as well as the fees for such services.
O’Dell advises first time users of professional tax help to not let messy or incomplete records keep them from getting the assistance they need. The advantage of a tax professional is that they know what records you should have and where you might actually find records you don’t think you have.
In addition, a professional can advise you on what records you should be keeping this year and what you should start collecting from now on, which will make future tax returns even easier. While it is nice to have everything sorted neatly by category and in individual file folders, even a shoe box will work to get you started. And “started” is the key word when it comes to having your taxes prepared accurately.
“With the changes in the tax laws in the last few years and the upcoming changes, planning is the most important part of filing your taxes,” O’Dell says. He notes that a tax professional is trained to ask the right questions that will determine the best and most accurate deductions for each return.
The bottom line is that if you are even questioning the need for advancing to a tax professional, you should explore your options and contact some tax professionals. Make calls and find someone who listens to you and with whom you feel comfortable.
BBB recommends that you make sure your tax professional is licensed properly and to check on the company with BBB.