Find an Accountant

Close up of pen, calculator and financial pages
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Finding an accountant to prepare your taxes is a relatively straightforward process.

First, ask yourself why you need an accountant. Basically, there are three reasons why someone seeks out a tax professional:

  • To prepare your taxes quickly and professionally,
  • To help you take advantage of tax credits and deductions, and
  • To help you tackle complex tax situations.

If having your taxes done quickly is most important, you should go to H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, Liberty Tax, or other retail tax companies.

They are specially trained to get your taxes done quickly.

If figuring out how to lower your tax bill is most important, you should seek out the advice of a licensed tax professional, such as a Certified Public Accountant.

If handling a complex tax situation is most important, you should call around to various tax offices to find an accountant who specializes in your problem.

Calling Around

Call around to a couple of tax offices to ask about their prices and how quickly they can schedule an appointment. Some accountants prepare your taxes while you are waiting, but others will have a brief interview with you and finish your tax return in a few days. If time is of the essence, be sure to ask how long it will take the accountant to finish your tax return.

Accountants often specialize in certain kinds of tax issues. If you have a special circumstance, you should seek an accountant who has the expertise.

Special circumstances include living outside the United States, day trading in the stock market, or owning a small business.

Professional Licenses

Some accountants have earned licenses or certifications in their trade. The most well-known is the CPA, or Certified Public Accountant. This license is granted after the accountant meets certain educational requirements and passes a comprehensive test of their tax and accounting knowledge.

Another license is the Enrolled Agent, often abbreviated "EA." An EA is an accountant who has passed a comprehensive two-day test given by the Internal Revenue Service covering tax law. Enrolled Agents, along with CPAs and tax attorneys, are authorized to practice before the IRS. This means they can go to an audit, or talk to the tax collectors on your behalf without you ever being present.

Not everyone needs the specialized knowledge and skills these professionals have. But it’s good to know they are there just in case you need them. For basic tax preparation, accountants at a local tax firm are helpful and knowledgeable. H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and Liberty Tax Service retail offices, as well as independent tax firms, should offer trained, helpful accountants who can prepare your return or refer you to someone in the office you can answer your more complicated tax questions.​

Prices

You should also ask potential accountants what their price range is. It is difficult, just by talking on the phone, to give an exact price estimate. That’s because most accountants charge for each form they have to fill out. In this way, more complex tax returns are priced higher than simpler returns.

But this also makes it difficult to give an estimate. Some accountants are moving to a flat rate or per hour pricing—be sure to ask.

Also, ask about any guarantees the accountant offers. Accountants will often personally guarantee that your tax return is free of math errors and data-entry errors. If a mistake is found, the accountant should offer to redo the tax return free of charge to correct these mistakes. But remember that you have to sign the tax return yourself, and that means that ultimately it is up to you to make sure your tax return is reasonably accurate.