Hiring a US tax accountant is difficult. Most people use the same tax accountant year after year, so it is important to do some legwork before you choose. Here are some recommended steps to help you make your decision.
Speak to your potential new tax preparer on the phone.
When you call, be prepared to talk about the following:
- Your previous year tax returns,
- Do you own any entities such as corporations, trusts or partnerships,
- Do you have any investments? Be prepared to talk about any RESPs, TFSAs and Canadian mutual funds.
- Do you have rental or royalty income?
- How many days do you spend in the US each year?
Check their credentials.
A tax preparer charging fees for their services should have a “PTIN” (Preparer Tax Identification Number). You can check on the status of your US tax preparer at the IRS website here. Also, ask your preparer if they belong to any professional organizations and how they keep up to date on their tax knowledge.
Ask your potential new tax preparer if they have any clients in your situation.
Ask about the estimated fees.
This is tricky. Most accountants bill on an hourly basis. A very organized client can take much less time than a disorganized client. Trust must be established between the client and the tax preparer to efficiently prepare the returns. The preparation of US and Canadian tax returns is complicated. A brief introductory call will rarely identify the detail required to give a precise quote. Although new facts commonly pop up, most accountants can give you an estimated range of fees.
Ask if the fee will include explanations regarding the tax return.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for the accuracy of your tax return. You do not need to know the precise details of your tax returns, but your preparer should be able to explain the basics of the return at your level of understanding.
Ask about deadlines.
The busiest time of year for a US/Canadian tax preparer is February 15th – June 15th. A personal US tax return can be easily extended to October 15th, but a Canadian tax return cannot be extended. In many cases, a US tax return can be done after the Canadian tax return. It is more important to find a tax preparer who can get your tax returns prepared accurately than quickly.