Yes, it's the holiday season. Christmas is less than a week away, and you've got a house to clean, meals to plan and cook and gifts to buy.
True, this isn't one you necessarily need to do by year's end. But you do need to think about hiring tax help sooner rather than later. Good tax professionals' schedules fill up quickly once filing season starts, and that looks like it will be on schedule this coming January.
As tax code grows, so does tax pro use: You definitely won't be alone in looking for tax help.
More than 140 million tax returns were filed last year. The Internal Revenue Service says that more than half of those 1040s were prepared with the help of a paid return preparer.
That's not surprising. Every year Congress adds new tax laws or makes changes to existing ones. If taxes aren't your life, you just can't keep up.
Tax pros will be in even more demand in the 2015 tax filing season. This is when millions of filers will face new Affordable Care Act provisions that kicked in this tax year.
OK, the mention of Obamacare convinced you that you'll need professional filing help. Now comes the big question. How do I know who to hire to help me file my taxes?
Picking the perfect tax pro: Your CPA brother-in-law or another financially astute relative might be quite able to handle your taxes. Your office mates could have some solid suggestions. And chain tax services work well for many.
But every taxpayer and tax situation is different. What works for your sister or neighbor or office mate might not work for you. Neither might their tax preparers.
So do your homework before you decide which type of tax preparer you want to hire.
The Internal Revenue Service wants to help here.
The agency announced Dec. 18 that it is partnering with several national tax and accounting organizations to help taxpayers understand their tax pro options, as well as provide tips on how to pick a reputable tax preparer.
A key component of this initiative is the new Web page, Choosing a Tax Professional. Here you'll find a list of consumer tips for selecting a paid tax preparer.
"Tax professionals are a vital link with American taxpayers, and without them we could not run the nation’s tax system," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in announcing the effort to help taxpayers find qualified tax help. "Taxpayers have many options for their taxes, ranging from using software to selecting a tax professional. We want taxpayers to understand the different types and categories of tax return preparers available to help them with their tax issues."
Tax pro help from tax pro groups: There's also a link to an online list of national non-profit tax professional groups that are working with the IRS to help filers find appropriate help. They include:
- American Association of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants (AAA-CPA);
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA);
- National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA);
- National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP);
- National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP);
- National Society of Accountants (NSA); and
- National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP).
"The tax return represents one of the biggest financial transactions of the year for many Americans, whether they are getting a refund or paying a tax bill," said Koskinen. "Filling out tax returns accurately is critically important. Between tax law changes and tax scams circulating, it’s more important than ever for people who need professional assistance to select wisely and carefully."
Tax pro directory: In addition, in January the IRS plans to launch on IRS.gov a new Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.
This searchable, sortable database will contain the name, city, state and Zip Code of credentialed return preparers (i.e., those accredited by the IRS partner groups), as well as those who have completed the requirements of the new IRS Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP).
So take some time now, or at least before next filing season starts around the third week of January, to think about your tax situation and which type of tax preparer will be best to guide you smoothly through the 2015 filing process and beyond.
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