Choosing the right tax preparer for your business is a decision best not left until April. A former tax preparer and small business mastermind offers insights into the secret world of tax preparers.
1. All tax preparers are not created equal.
It stands to reason, somewhere in the country is the Worst Tax Preparer. The bad news is you may have already booked your appointment with him. Preparing taxes is a complex activity. So complex that many of us simply throw in the towel, pack up our receipts, and head for the nearest tax office. When you arrive at the office, you fully expect our tax preparer to be highly competent and completely vested in getting you the best deal in town.
Back in my tax preparing days, I worked for one of the big name tax preparation franchises both as a preparer and as a tax return editor. I worked with seasoned professionals and total neophytes. I well remember the first time I stepped up to the plate as a new preparer. I was terrified. Terrified the customer would know I was inexperienced. Terrified I’d make a huge blunder and the customer would pick up on it. Terrified the more experienced preparers would laugh at my mistakes.
I quickly realized that as inexperienced as I was, I still knew way more than my clients did. And because the franchise had great systems, others would be checking and re-checking my work so my mistakes and oversights would be caught before I did any damage to the client.
As a tax return editor, I saw and corrected more mistakes than you would feel comfortable knowing about. Which brings me to a very important point, tax preparation is not a cut and dried, read the manual, do the formulas, follow the instructions, and poof! you’re done kind of activity. The tax codes in this country are complex and open to interpretation.
Tax preparers have a wide range of experience from none to grizzled veteran. They also span the continuum from ethical to completely fraudulent. The more complex your return, the more you need a veteran preparer. And if your preparer tells you about this great deduction that you can take and it sounds suspicious to you, listen to your intuition. It’s the difference between paying a little bit now or paying a whole lot later.
2. Tax preparers are not business experts.
The only business experts in the world are those who are running successful businesses. Tax preparers are trained to understand taxes. They’re trained to know the proper forms and deductions. They’re trained to help you with tax planning. They are not trained to understand how business works.
Now, you may have a tax preparer who is also a successful business owner. Many CPA’s, accountants, bookkeepers, and tax preparers do run their own businesses. They’re in a much better position to help you with your taxes because they understand the day to day challenges of running a business.
Understand that having your taxes prepared by a big name franchise, although it does ensure that your return is accurate, does not mean that your return is prepared in a way that is best for your business. Only a preparer who understands business can prepare a return that works for your business.
3. Hiring a tax preparer doesn’t mean you’re excused from understanding taxes.
I’ve seen it so many times. I sit down with a client to talk about finances or taxes. As I talk, the head is nodding, the mouth is saying, “uh huh, uh huh”, but what they’re really focused on is the pen in their hand. They don’t want to understand, they just want to sign off on the paperwork and be done with it. “That’s what I hire you for”, they say.