Choosing a tax professional

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Taxes seem to get more complicated every year. That’s why it’s important to get the best advice when you’re ready to tackle your annual tax return. The Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs recommends asking these questions when you’re selecting a tax professional.

What makes you the best person to do my return?

Before you pick a tax professional, be sure to ask about their education, experience, and licensing. Taxes can be confusing, so you want to have the most highly trained person on your side. CPAs are state-licensed professionals who have to pass the Uniform CPA Examination, a rigorous four-part, 14-hour test. They also must meet their state’s education and work experience requirements to earn their license. In addition, CPAs are required to meet ongoing high standards for continuing education and ethics. That’s why so many people turn to CPAs each year for help with tax return preparation.

Can you explain your qualifications to me?

Don’t assume someone is qualified just because of their job title. Did you know, for example, that all CPAs can be considered accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs? Many people who call themselves “accountants” or “tax preparers” may have minimal

qualifications or experience. If you want to receive advice from a highly skilled professional, be sure to ask if the person you are considering is a CPA.

What new tax laws may affect my return?

Changes in tax legislation can have a significant impact each year. For example, under a new law qualified homebuyers may be eligible for a credit of 10 percent of a home’s purchase price—up to $8,000—if they entered into a contract to buy a principal residence by April 30, 2010, and closed on the home before Sept. 30, 2010. On another front, if you made energy-efficient improvements to your home during the last year, you may qualify for a residential energy property credit. Business owners may be eligible for new incentives and opportunities as a result of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. Your CPA can tell you more about how to take advantage of new opportunities and address the challenges in recent tax legislation.

How else can you help me improve my financial situation?

Filing your return will be your main concern right now, but tax time is also a great opportunity to take stock of where you stand financially and consider necessary changes. What are your most pressing financial concerns? What issues keep you up at night? Whatever they are, the chances are that your local CPA has tackled a similar challenge with other clients. CPAs work with individuals and businesses in their communities throughout the year, not just during tax season. They help clients with their tax

planning as well as many other financial issues.

Consult Your CPA

Working with a CPA offers reassurance that the job will be done right. If you have questions about your tax situation, or any other aspects of your finances, turn to your local CPA. He or she has the answers you need. To find a CPA near you, visit http://www.IneedaCPA.org.

(The CommonWealth Tips columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.)

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