What do you want a tax professional to do for you? That is not a trick question. Anyone with a little tax knowledge can prepare a return but can they prepare the return you want and do they offer the services you need?
Do They Have the Skills You Need?
When you are talking to prospective tax preparers, they need to know how complex the return is you need. I don't know how many times I have been told that, "It's a simple return." when it had rentals or a business. I can handle those forms without a problem but they aren't what I classify as 'simple". Is there more than the local state? Are there special issues like injured spouse or EITC after disallowance? Newer preparers may not have prepared these before. Some preparers do only basic 1040 returns. Others will take any 1040 return but nothing else. You have to ask. This goes when your tax situation has changed because you have started a business or sold a property. Check with your current preparer to make sure they can do your new return. It is hard to return paperwork to a client when you discover it is over your head. We want to please (and earn the money) and it is tempting to try to muddle through. If the preparer says "no" to the return, don't push. You have to live with the results.
What Comes With the Return?
What other services do you want or need? A lot of tax professional provide other services. Bookkeeeping, investments and insurance are the major sidelines. But don't forget about services as part of the return. E-filing, bank products, extra copies of the return, off season availablity should also be a concern. How do they handle customer contact or interview? Many preparers have you drop it off your documents and they set an appointment for pick up. Others complete the return on the spot or interview upfront. Don't assume that the way your last preparer handled your meeting is the way the new preparer does it. Are they doing the return or is it someone in the back room? And what is their guarentee? You might not find someone who offers everything you dream of in a preparer but you can get close and everyone works better when they are on the same wavelength.
What Do You Really Want the Preparer to Do For You?
Do you want a big refund/low tax or an accurate return? They aren't mutually exculsive. But if that big refund or low tax is your primary goal and you're willing to let accuracy slide, you need to be cautious in choosing someone to do your return. Most of us are working hard to prepare an accurate return where you legelly pay the least in tax the code allows. So if you are looking for someone who'll take liberties with the tax code, you really need to work friends and family for suggestions of the crooks. Don't get mad at us when we won't do what you want. I don't work for you, I work for me and provide you a service in the form of an accurate tax return. I don't care what your other preparer did. And remember, just because you haven't gotten caught, yet, doesn't make your cheating right. There are plenty of people out there who will be glad to get you the refund you think you deserve.