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Where to find your perfect tax preparer

Reviewed and updated Dec. 1, 2021

Tax preparer helping a client_US Army photoA tax preparer helps a client file her taxes. (U.S. Army photo) 

Every year, most of us fill out our annual tax return using tax preparation software. Through the October 2021 extending filing deadline, the Internal Revenue Service reported that it had received almost 152 million returns, or just more than 90 percent, that were computer prepared and e-filed.

But most of those electronically prepared 1040s actually were completed by tax professionals. No kidding.

Tax pros handled 84.4 million versus 67.3 million that were self-prepared by taxpayers. That's a 5.3 percent increase of tax preparer use over the previous tax year.

COVID-19 tax law and deadline changes obviously are key reasons that more of us sought professional tax help this year. But even in pre-pandemic times, Congress tends to tweak tax laws. That's happening again as I type.

And with yet more tax law changes coming as new tax filing season is on the horizon, now is the perfect time to look into hiring a tax professional.  

Yes, the tax pros also use software. But as all of us know, the phrase garbage-in-garbage-out applies perfectly to taxes. Tax prep programs can ask you questions, but sometimes the answers aren't clear-cut. A tax pro can help cut through the confusion before typing in the correct answers and amounts.

In addition to having a tax pro plugging in your tax data, you also get the benefit of personal consultation and help on your current return as well as in planning for future filings.

Picking the proper tax pro: As you might suspect, the increase in tax pro use means that many are still swamped. But now that the 2021 tax season for the most part over, it's a good time to find a tax preparer who is accepting new clients for the coming year.

You first need to determine which type of tax preparer best fits your filing and financial needs. Then you need to check out the potential preparers.

And, of course, you want one that's good, qualified and convenient. There are several ways to do that.

Finding one in your area: Even the IRS wants to help with your tax preparer search.

The agency has its own directory of preparers. The online listing includes professionals who hold credentials recognized by the IRS, as well as those who earn an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion of continuing tax education programs.

In addition, several major tax professional groups offer online tax preparer searches that can help you find the perfect tax pro to get you through filing season.

They are:

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) -- The AICPA is the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession. 

National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) -- NAEA is a professional society representing enrolled agents (EAs), who earn their licenses from the Department of Treasury by passing a three-part exam administered by IRS.

National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) -- NATP has members in all 50 states who focus specifically on federal tax preparation.

National Society of Accountants (NSA) -- NSA and its state affiliates represent independent practitioners who provide accounting, tax, auditing, financial and estate planning and management services to individuals and businesses.

As I mentioned, client lists for all these tax pros are filing up fast. So if you want to work with a tax professional next year, you best get your search started now.

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Jamaal Solomon, EA

Great post! As an Enrolled Agent, it is both interesting and scary to see the rise of DIY tax software. I'm the first to tell any taxpayer with a simple tax return to use a DIY if possible. However, you got some taxpayers with complex schedules A, C, D and Es trying to use DIY software. They believe that a computer will ask and cover everything required to file the tax returns. This leads to more costly errors and mistakes. I hope taxpayers really take note to the great sources of information in this posts. We have too much shady tax professionals hurting our profession with promises of quick and easy refunds.

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