taxes

How to Hire a Tax Pro

Follow these steps to find the right person to prepare your return.

My sister recently sent me an e-mail asking whether she needed to hire someone to prepare her taxes because she had self-employment income in addition to her regular pay. "No," I told her. She would just need to fill out two additional forms that weren't difficult to tackle -- a Schedule C-EZ and a Schedule SE.

You, too, might be wondering if you should call in a tax pro if you picked up some freelance work last year, hired a full-time babysitter so you could return to work or did anything that requires you to file more forms in addition to your 1040. Many of you will probably find that tax software will suffice -- and be much cheaper than hiring an accountant. In fact, my husband and I use tax software and we have a pretty complicated return.

But if even tax software intimidates you, here's what you need to know about hiring someone to help prepare your tax return:

Get a referral. Ask your friends, family and colleagues whether they can recommend a tax preparer. If you are new to an area, check with your state's CPA society, which should be able to help you find a CPA in your area, the Accreditation Council's Web site for an accredited tax adviser or preparer, or the National Association of Enrolled Agents' directory.

Interview candidates. Narrow your list of referrals down to two or three candidates, then call or visit them for an interview. Most tax preparers should have time for a brief phone interview during tax season (after April they probably should be able to talk for 20 to 30 minutes). If they aren't willing to give you a few minutes on the phone -- or want to charge you for the initial interview -- then look elsewhere.

For a list of questions to ask candidates, red flags to watch for and what you should do once you hire someone, see my Five Steps to Hiring a Tax Pro story.

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