Finding Your Perfect Tax Pro

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Choosing the right professional to handle your taxes is not unlike finding the perfect shoe. You’re looking for comfort and the right amount of support. You’re trying to match both your lifestyle and your budget.

So how do you find a tax preparer that fits? Start with the main options:

Accountants, especially certified public accountants (CPAs), have the most schooling and must take a rigorous exam. If your tax situation is somewhat complicated—say you own a business or investment real estate—this may be the best choice. Be prepared to pay at least a couple hundred dollars, possibly much more.

Storefront “tax preparers” are the DSWs of taxes. If you’re filing a basic individual tax return with few special concerns, that might be just fine. Many charge a flat fee depending on the type of return filed, starting as low as $100.

Tax attorneys can help if you’re fighting a tax ruling, have trusts or other estate-planning issues, or are involved in complex business partnerships. An attorney could charge upwards of $200 an hour.

When shopping around ask: How much experience does the preparer have? Does he or she have a particular niche (such as working with freelancers)? Belong to a professional organization with a code of ethics? How is the fee determined? Make sure whoever you work with has a Preparer Tax Identification Number, required by the IRS.

Avoid preparers who get paid based on the size of your refund. Same goes for those unwilling to sign a return or who ask you to sign a blank return.

Ultimately, you want to find someone you can trust not to let you down—just like with the perfect shoe.

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