by Raoul

This is a good time of the year to discuss an extremely important step in the income tax return process. Selecting a professional preparer. If you have reached the point where you are questioning your own ability to keep pace with the complexities of your tax situation, now is the time to act. Hopefully, you will not only find a competent preparer, but also get some valuable input that will help you meet the challenge of financial, business, and tax management concerns during the course of the year.

Let's discuss the process of how to select a professional preparer. One thing Raoul is not, is an elitist. So don't be surprised when I say I have no objections to the burger joint preparers such as Block and others. In fact, I believe they provide a valuable service, for the right demographic, that is. I'm just not sure that it's you. Generally, their people are well trained and they are reasonably priced. But remember, you get what you pay for. And, unfortunately, all they do are tax returns, and primarily simple ones at that. Listen to Raoul. There will probably come a time when you need something more complex or comprehensive of a financial nature such as: a cash flow projection for that new digital studio equipment loan, a personal financial statement for a mortgage application, the evaluation of a business opportunity, just to name a few. These things can best be provided for you by someone familiar with your personal tax situation.

You should put some effort into finding a preparer. They won't find you. Don't be a schlemiel and expect to start this process between the time you get your W-2 form in the mail and April 15th. By that time, most quality preparers are busy servicing their established clientele and don't have a lot of time to waste trying to impress some window-shopping gringo. An important part of making a relaxed, educated decision is in the timing; so, don't delay to the point where you leave your back to the wall with limited options.

Recommendations from co-workers and associates are also a good place to start your talent search. But just because the morning drive jock or your PD swear by their guys, it doesn't mean that their representative knows anything about your business. With recommendations, always consider the source.

In a similar manner as doctors, attorneys, and other crooks, some accountants specialize in specific industries and have established a reputation because of that effort. You want to find out if a prospective preparer has, at the least, a concept of what you do. A personal interview is a good idea. Don't be afraid to ask questions! Remember, you are the client/customer. Make sure that the information is flowing in the right direction. It shouldn't be difficult to get a sense of how a person relates to what you do to earn a living.

There is another consideration unique to your industry which Raoul refers to as the "standing around, doing a good job, minding your own business, and boom you are outta' here" factor. You know what I mean. There you are, working your huevos rancheros off and thinking that everything is cool, man. Then comes the management, ownership, or format change. "Sorry, but we just want to go with a different sound." Bye, bye. So, you might want to think in terms of an accountant you can continue doing business with regardless of the market in which you are currently working. That is, of course, if they meet all of your other needs. Incidently, a person or firm with that capability is also more likely to be in a position to help you evaluate the economics of a job relocation in the event of the "outta' here" scenario. With the technology of communications available to us, in most cases, distance should not present a problem. If you have confidence in a representative and feel that you are getting personalized, knowledgeable attention, stay with them!

A comfort factor is important. Raoul and the other taxmen have noticed over the years that creative people are sometimes intimidated by professional service types, i.e., attorneys, CPAs, etc.. Find someone you are comfortable with. Unfortunately, accountants generally do not have the reputations of being two-fisted, swashbuckling, bon vivants. In fact, most of them are more like Square Sol and his Stiff Doll. So, in the course of your interview or search process, try to pick someone you actually might like, a kindred spirit perhaps. Please, believe your friend Raoul. You do not want to sit across a desk from some boring limp-putz for two hours every year for the rest of your life.

Keep in mind that you are ideally looking for a person that may become, in the future, one of the closest personal confidants that you will ever have. And, if the relationship works, this person will eventually know as much about you as your urologist!

And finally, remember that there are many stages and levels of representation. Perhaps your needs could best be satisfied with an hour or two of professional consultation. Maybe you just require some help on a single complicated issue affecting only the current year. Many accountants, CPAs, and tax preparers offer complimentary evaluations of your tax return; so, if you find an opportunity like this, take advantage of it! More often than not, if you are doing yourself a rotten tax job, most preparers worth anything should be able to point out areas where they could save you money. Hopefully, an amount in excess of their fee.

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