It’s tax time, and you’re sick of going it alone. And you’re not the first to make the switch. Each year, millions of new taxpayers opt for a tax prep service or online tool over DIY when filing their taxes. Of course, that’s not a big surprise, seeing as they’re easier and more convenient than spending countless hours sorting through all those papers and forms on your own.
But while tax-filing software is certainly popular, it’s simply not the best for every taxpayer. Professional tax preparation services have a lot of advantages: far more advanced programs, greater training and expertise, and a greater ability to handle complex finances.
Here’s the issue: Most people dislike doing their taxes so much that they end up hiring the first tax preparer they meet. But unless you’ve done your research, the first tax preparer you meet is probably the wrong one. So how can you tell if your tax preparation service is the wrong one?
If you want to file taxes using the worst tax preparation service possible, here are a few things you should seek out. If a tax preparation service is on this list, you can just about guarantee you won’t be getting your money’s worth.
The right tax professional is ready to answer any questions you may have along the way, so you’ll know you’ve found the wrong tax preparation professional when you have trouble getting a hold of them.
While it’s tough to expect 24/7 customer service for detailed tax questions (a specific deduction or investment, for example), you should expect availability during business hours or at very least a quick response. Tax preparation services that earn their keep will make a point to ensure you feel comfortable every step of the way.
If you can’t get in touch with your tax preparer, you’ve found the wrong tax preparation service.
A great tax preparation company knows all tax laws, not just national ones. If your tax prep service isn’t familiar with your local and state tax laws, you can rest assured you’ve chosen the wrong one.
Tax code can vary dramatically depending on your location. Your income taxes may be lower, or there may be a higher sales tax that impacts reportable income from your business. A good tax prep service doesn’t just know that these differences exist, but rather, knows exactly how to navigate them to maximize your benefits.
If your tax preparer has to ask you about your local tax laws, you’ve certainly hired the wrong tax preparation service.
A reputable tax prep service acts as your advocate throughout the tax process. If the tax preparer isn’t prepared to support you through an audit, you’ve definitely picked the wrong one.
While audits aren’t entirely random, they can still happen even when you’ve done everything right. Your ideal tax preparation service knows you’re in this together. They know there’s always a slim chance you could be audited, and if you are, they acknowledge a responsibility to support you.
If your tax preparation service considers their work done upon filing—regardless of outcome—congratulations! You’ve hired the wrong tax prep service.
Good tax prep services carefully maintain their legal qualifications and reputation. If your tax preparer doesn’t seem to adhere to that standard, you’ve picked the wrong one.
An online reputation is important in the 21st century, and maintaining good professional standing is a big part of that. While not every online review is reliable, organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) can give you a trusted sense of your tax preparer’s work. Additionally, you should check for your tax preparation service’s Preparation Tax Identification Number (PTIN). This number indicates a person has earned the privilege of representing taxpayers before the IRS—and it requires maintenance of ongoing education and ethical standards.
If you can’t rely on your tax preparation service’s credentials, you may well have picked the wrong one.
Each tax preparation company comes with its own blend of qualities, and finding the right mix of services, price, and support will help you zero in on the one that’s right for you. And knowing what to avoid can be just as useful as knowing what you should look for.
More than anything, you just need to do your own research. Recommendations are helpful, but you need to feel confident and comfortable—not just relieved to have made a decision in the first place! We may be biased, but we think finding the right match for your tax preparation service is one of the most helpful financial decisions you can make.
Once you feel like you have people on your tax prep team who are working not just for you—but with you—then you’ve found the right tax prep company for you.
Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to find out when exciting IRS news happens. Yes, exciting. We're really into taxes.