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Five Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Tax Professional

questions-ask-tax-professional

Five Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Tax Professional

Recently, a prospective client called for a consultation. He’d received a recommendation and is on the hunt to find a new tax preparer for 2016.

During the preliminary phone conversation he asked if during our in-person meeting, he could interview me.

When I said “yes, of course,” there was a pause before he admitted, “I know I should be asking about your background and experience, but I don’t know exactly what questions to ask.”

Are You Looking for a New Tax Preparer?

This prospective client is on the right track. You would never think of hiring an employee without a job interview. Seeking the best tax professional deserves a few probing questions.

Figuring out what to ask will depend on what you need.

There are few professional relationships that rank as high on the intimacy scale as doctors, lawyers and tax preparers. Be bold.

This is no time to be shy! 

What Are the Important Questions to Ask?

You could do a Google search for the top five questions to ask a tax professional.

However, you and your prospective tax preparer would be better off digging a bit deeper.

Credentials and experience are important to vet, but you’ll want to determine what is important to you, too.

“When clients start looking for a new tax person, it isn’t always for the reasons you might think,” says Georgia Rogers, EA. “They are not necessarily unhappy with the quality of the work someone is doing for them. Common complaints are, ‘They don’t respond to my emails, they don’t return my calls, it takes too long for them to finish my return.’ It has more to do with poor communication than work product.”

 

questions-to-ask-tax-professional

The following questions can serve as a guide.

You can see where they rank with you and they can help you determine which tax preparer will meet your needs.

How to use these questions to get the answers you need:

  • The numbered questions are designed for your tax professional. The table below each one is meant for you to mark when you conduct your interview.
  • The questions with the bullet point are for you. The rating scale beneath will give you the opportunity to think about what really matters to you.

This entire section can be printed out to use during your initial consultation.

Look at the potential tax preparer’s response – then look at your own ranking of the related questions you’ve asked yourself. This will help you determine whether this person is a good fit for what you expect in a tax professional.

  1. Ask how long, on average, it takes your potential tax professional to respond to a client phone call or email?
Response within

24 hours

Response within

2 business days

Response within

5 business days

Response within

2 weeks

       

 

  • How do you rank this question? When I call or email my tax preparer I expect a response within a few days.
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
         


(As an example – if you check the box marked strongly agree, you expect a quick response. If the potential tax preparer indicates it can take two weeks to get back to you that is not a good match.)

  1. What are the options for getting documents to your potential tax preparer?
Drop Them Off in Person Mail Email Dropbox or similar
       

 

  • I want a variety of options when getting my documentation to my preparer. 
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
  

 

  1. How does your tax preparer protect your data from identity theft?
Blank stare – no plan in place Network firewall  & anti-virus/anti-malware  +Two-factor authentication & full-disk encryption +Endpoint security and port protection
       


Tax identity theft
is a growing concern for many people. Technology seems to be in constant flux. Anyone you trust with your tax information should have an adequate protection plan in place. They may have one or more of the safeguards above.

  • I want to know that my tax preparer has a comprehensive protection plan in place to keep my documents and tax information safe.
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
         

 

  1. How many individual returns does your tax preparer complete each year and if you have a home business, a rental, or a corporation – how many returns like this does she/he do a year and what is the average cost?
Individual Returns

 

#        Average Cost

Businesses

 

 

#         Average Cost

Partnerships/ LLC’s

 

#         Average Cost

Corporations/

S Corps

 

#   Average Cost

Rental Properties

 

#   Average Cost

         

Your questions can also go beyond whether the preparer has worked on partnerships, LLC’s and corporate returns to see if they understand your industry.

Finding a tax professional who has experience with any special circumstances you may have based on residency status, investments or specific industries can be explored, too.

This is a good time to ask about the average cost of preparing your type of return.

  • I want a tax professional who has extensive experience with returns like mine and whose fees are in my price range.
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
         

Don’t stop asking questions, yet.

Once you’ve gotten through those important questions, you still have some ground to cover.

If you are someone who likes to drop off or electronically deliver your documents and you aren’t that concerned with a face-to-face debrief about your taxes, interaction with your preparer may not rank high on your list.

If, however, you want to talk with someone, it is a good idea to ask more questions. During your initial consultation you can ask what type of consultation is part of the tax preparation fee and what is out of the routine and will be charged for separately.

  1. Does your tax preparer meet with clients before and/or after a return is completed as part of the tax preparation process?
Does not meet with client as part of the process Meets with client before filing (only) Meets with client after filing (only) Meets with client before and/or after
       

 

  • It is important that I meet at least once with my tax preparer each year, as part of the process.
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
         

 

  1. What is the actual time it takes your tax preparer to complete a return from start to filing?
One week Two weeks Three weeks One month
       

 

  • I expect my return to be completed and filed within three weeks.
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
         

 

  1. Does your tax preparer represent you if you are audited?
Yes No We make a referral

 

If you are someone who wants to find every possible break or tax deduction, even if it might raise a question, you’ll want someone who takes a rather aggressive approach to tax preparation.

If you would prefer someone who will look carefully for any red flags in your return which could spark an audit, you will seek out a more conservative tax professional.

In either event, it is important to know if the person preparing your taxes can also represent you in an audit. Enrolled agents can represent you during a tax audit. In fact, only enrolled agents, CPAs and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS.

Enrolled agents may actually possess more experience preparing returns and dealing with the IRS through audits.

  • Getting every possible deduction to lower my tax liability is my priority
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
         

 

  1. Does your tax preparer provide tax planning throughout the year? 
Yes No We make a referral

 

Life events happen all year long, so you may face financial decisions throughout the year that may have significant tax implications.

If interaction with your tax preparer is important because this person will become a trusted resource, find out in advance how your preparer prefers to communicate with you. Also, find out how they charge for additional services.

  • I want a tax preparer who is available during the year for tax advice.
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neither agree nor disagree 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
         

 What’s next?

Remember, it is important to determine whether your potential tax preparer possesses relevant experience, is competent and familiar with your type of filing and can keep your tax identity information safe.

It is equally important that you measure your own tolerance, expectations and communication style to see how well all these elements factor into your decision to choose a tax preparer for 2016.

Ready to Start Asking Questions?

Corte Madera’s ProActive Tax Solutions welcomes your questions about working with a tax preparer. We offer a wide range of tax related services and would be happy to sit down with you or talk on the phone. We’re located on Paradise Drive, just down the street from Mini Marin and the Acura dealership. Our phone number is 415-924-6240 or email me directly at GeorgiaRogers@ProActiveTaxSolutions.com.