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We all love spending money, but tracking our finances and our debt to the IRS or the state is a whole different story. When the dreaded tax season rolls around, organizing your financial records and filing your own tax returns can be a bit of a mess—even if you’re using the very latest version of TurboTax. Hiring an accountant can help alleviate stress and save loads of money in the long run. Consider the following criteria when choosing the right accountant for you:
Does one of your friends use an accountant to help file her taxes or keep the books for her small business? Inquire about the accountant’s strengths and weaknesses. Does the accountant explain things in a way that is easy to follow and understand? Has the accountant saved her money on her tax returns? You can always ask the prospective accountant to provide their own referrals if you don’t know of any yourself.
This point is even more important than the first. If you’re going to spend your hard earned cash on an accountant, make sure they’re well qualified to handle your finances. Be sure to ask about the accountant’s background: how long have they been practicing? Do they specialize in a certain branch of accounting? Are they affiliated with a professional organization? Do they attend continuing education classes to keep apprised of the latest changes in tax law? If you’re hiring an accountant for tax purposes, the accountant is required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) as well.
3) Your Needs
Beyond referrals and qualifications, what you should look for in an accountant depends on your personal needs. If your finances are relatively straight-forward (i.e. you only have one source of income), handling your finances through a retail tax franchise like H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, or Liberty Tax Service will probably be sufficient. If you have a more complex financial situation (i.e. you’re a small business owner or independent contractor), hiring an accountant with more rigorous qualifications, like a CPA or Enrolled Agent, might be in your best interest. These accountants can help you better organize your financial records and inform you of possible deductions you may be eligible to receive as a business owner or independent contractor.
Most importantly, choose an accountant who will be available and willing to answer your questions when you have them. Having an interested and proactive accountant is the best way to ensure that your finances are in good hands.
Make sure to keep track of your earnings and give the information to your accountant come tax season!