- How long have you been practicing? The reason this is important to me is nothing trumps credentials like experience. I can't think of a year when someone didn't have an issue that I'd never encountered before. In my opinion, the more experience the better.
- What type of taxes do you prepare? Often times people will specialize in one area and not have too much experience in other areas. As an example, many practitioners don't prepare Fiduciary returns, corporate returns, etc.
- What do you limit your practice to? As an example, although I prepare a few Schedule Fs (farming), if someone came to me with a 5,000 acre ranch running cattle with 17 employees, I would pass. I simply have no experience in this area. Another area, if it pertains to you, would be tax deferred exchanges. If you exchange property often, you would want someone with this type of experience.
- How large is your firm? It helps to know if you're dealing with a single practitioner or an office with many preparers. There are pros and cons to each. In a larger firm, your tax will likely be run through the office in a matter of a few days to a couple of hours. Although there is nothing wrong with this, sometimes it's nice to be able to take the time to think about a client's particular situation prior to finishing the return. A larger firm does, however, provide more people to run ideas across. A smaller firm may have more time to work on your tax, and not feel the pressure of getting a number of returns out the door in an arbitrarily set turn-around time. Some of my best clients came to me after using a large firm. The larger firms consider a company that only grosses say $5,000,000 as very small, and quite often turns it over to their junior employees.
- If you (the prospective preparer) should suddenly be taken ill, (or worse) what contingency plans do you have? Here is where a larger firm may have an advantage, as there should be several capable people to take over. In a smaller firm, you need to ask. In my case, my husband is also an EA, so we can cover for each other.
- What are your fees? Some firms charge by the hour, some by the form, and some, such as myself a combination of both. As an example, if I have a minimum fee which includes Form 1040, Schedule A (itemized deductions) and Schedule B (interest and dividends) which is what clients typically have, it isn't fair for a client with 2 W-2 forms, 2 1099-Int and 1 1099-Div to pay the same amount as a client with 17 W-2 forms, (think the film industry here), 5 1099-Int and 12 1099-Div forms. So if this is a concern, ask for an estimate. They most likely will be unable to do so until they actually see the type of paperwork you have and the number of forms involved. When a new client comes to me, I can always give them an estimate, and if they don't like it, I return the paperwork with no hard feelings either way. Neither of us like surprises.
These are just a few issues you may wish to consider. I suggest before calling anyone, write down of list of questions important to you so you won't forget to ask.