How can you save money when employing a CPA or other tax pro? By being prepared. Be willing to do some advance work, and bring the right documents to your appointment
“Don't confuse your tax professional with a secretarial service,” said Sally Herigstad, a CPA in the Seattle area and author of “Help! I Can't Pay My Bills” (St. Martin's Griffin, 2007). Being unprepared wastes time, which will cost you money. Open any envelopes with the words “tax information” or “tax documents” before your appointment, and sort the contents by category. If you have several income documents, group them into subcategories: W-2s and 1099s, for instance. You will pay extra if your preparer has to make copies, sort papers, and check for duplicates and missing expenses.
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See our Income Tax Guide for more tips on preparing, filing, and saving on your income tax return.
Many preparers send their clients a tax-organizer worksheet, a paper or electronic document to fill out in advance. Ask your preparer for one or create your own. When I helped a friend fill one out for a CPA she was using for the first time, the process took a couple of hours, including creating a list of everything she still needed to provide to the preparer. But once she's been with him for a while, that onerous task shouldn't take her as much time to do.
Below are some other items to remember to bring to your appointment. Tax pro's say they're often overlooked:
- The closing letter if you refinanced your home mortgage.
- Real-estate tax receipts if you don't pay those taxes through escrow.
- A new baby's Social Security number (needed to claim the child as a dependent).
- The taxpayer-ID numbers, addresses, and phone numbers of child-care providers.
- Business mileage for your unreimbursed employee business expenses. (For 2014, it was 56 cents per mile.)
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