So... how do you know who's best for you? There are many excellent articles online - go to google, type "how to find a tax preparer" and you'll get over 10 million hits.
Arnold's own advice is this:
Find someone who is qualified. Until recently, anyone could hang out a shingle and say they do taxes. Fortunately, the IRS is in the process of implementing changes that will require paid preparers to pass a national tax law exam, and this should help weed out some of the truly incompetent preparers that are out there. I would choose someone with at least five years of experience preparing tax returns. Many people think that a CPA is their best bet, and many CPAs are excellent tax pros. However, think of a CPA like a family doctor. They know quite a bit about a broad spectrum of accounting issues, and taxes are certainly one of those. But if you have a very specialized medical need, the family doctor might not be your best bet. Same with taxes. An accounting degree and a CPA designation tell me a lot, but an Enrolled Agent is a tax specialist and is tested directly by the IRS. Enrolled Agents must also complete 72 hours of continuing education every three years in order to retain their status.
Find out what they will charge. Amazingly, a higher fee does not always mean better quality. Many clients who came to us with tax returns prepared by others had to be amended in order to fix mistakes. In most cases, those clients paid more than we would have charged – whether they went to a national chain or an accounting firm. Regardless of who does your taxes, realize that not all tax returns will cost the same. Be prepared to talk about your entire tax situation (sources of income, businesses, rentals, investments, etc.) so that an accurate quote can be provided. Even then, prices could easily go up if you and your tax pro stumble across something you overlooked. An ethical tax preparer will let you know when that happens – before presenting you with a bill.
Find out how they store and protect your private information. Here again, practices vary greatly. Ask your tax pro what would happen if someone broke into their business and stole their computers. Is the information backed up? Is it encrypted? We use military-grade full-disk encryption and an encrypted online backup service that creates a full duplicate of everything we need, every night. We scan your source documents so that if you lose important tax documents, we can provide you with replacements. And we offer a secure online file-sharing portal at no additional cost so that you have 24/7/365 access to your source documents and tax returns.
Find out how to get help after April 15th. Try going to a "Big Box" provider like H&R Block and being able to reach your specific tax preparer when the IRS sends you a love letter. Only a small percentage of their employees are available year-round. The rest are seasonal – with a contract that expires on April 15th.
Ask your friends, neighbors and relatives. There is nothing better than the commendation of someone you know and trust.