Now that we've discussed the Who, What, Where & Why of how to find the right help, when to find your tax help is the next step. As in most things of importance, the logical answer is before you need help. In an ideal situation, it would be most beneficial to be able to sit down and discuss your tax needs and be able to have a meaningful conversation either in person or by phone, prior to the tax filing season.
In the real world, however, this usually is impractical as most of us wait until we can't figure it out ourselves, or the tax filing deadline is fast approaching, and we need help now. Given that most preparers work between 60 - 80 hours per week during the filing season, no one is going to be thrilled to get into a long conversation as to how they could best help you. They will most likely have their secretary book an appointment, and you will be very lucky to even have a conversation with the preparer prior to your tax appointment.
Your best option is to be as thorough and prepared as possible, so as to get right to the heart of the matter and take as little time as possible. Here you might have an advantage by sending in your return or by creating pdf files and sending it via a secure server or an email attachment. When I am able to review all the documentation required, and the prospective client utilities the organizer I send to them, it makes my life much easier, as then I can call with any questions; and there are always questions. It makes for much less stress for each of us, and cutting back on the time an office visit takes usually results in a lower bill. In this case, each of us wins.
Finally, I will briefly discuss the how of finding your professional preparer. The best advertising is always by word of mouth, so start with your circle of friends, family, and perhaps most importantly, business associates. If your tax issues more or less mirror a trusted colleague, chances are the preparer he or she uses will have experience in the area you need most. If you have your own business, the preparer your retired uncle who was a school teacher all his working life, may not be familiar with the issues a business person has. If the person recommended is unable to accommodate new clients, by following the guidelines outlined over this week, you should be able to find someone to your liking on your own. As a last resort, you can always file for an extension of time to file before the April 15 filing deadline. Just be certain to estimate your tax to see if you will owe anything. Remember, the extension is for filing, not paying your taxes. Good luck, and next year, please start earlier!