The 2020 tax filing season has just started, and already it’s set to be a roller coaster. With the confusion of who should receive a stimulus payment, when it should be reported, if it’s taxable (don’t worry, it’s not), and what people need to do to qualify for the next payment, tax filing has become even more complicated. Congress stated that they were “simplifying” the 1040 tax form to a one-page “postcard”; however, the 1040 is now 2-3 pages depending on your filing and includes additional statements.
Businesses have received grants and loans and individuals in many cases received “stimulus” payments, unemployment income, or both. The confusion about whether those things are taxable, what expenses are deductible, and how to report these expense and income items further complicates their respective tax returns. What many people do not know is that Congress has the ability to change tax laws retroactively. In fact, it is in the process of potentially doing so for the 2020 filing season.
Needless to say, this could be a stressful year for filing if you’re going at it alone. By working with a tax preparer in Madison, you can receive guidance and reassurance you are filing the proper way with a trusted and accessible professional. Of course, making any financial decision involves some due diligence on your part, so we have a handful of tips below to help guide your search.
Find A Tax Preparer You Get Along With
We’re not saying taxes are going to be the most fun you’ve ever had, but you should enjoy the tax prep professional you choose. You wouldn’t pick just any doctor or dentist if they’re not the right fit for you, and the same should be true for someone who’s a big part of your financial well-being. Many firms, ours included, will provide prospective clients the opportunity to schedule a no-obligation initial consultation. That way, you can make sure you’re on the same page with the tax professional and they offer the level of care you’re looking for.
Find a Technologically Proficient Tax Preparer
This one is equal parts convenience and cybersecurity. If you’re looking for tax prep help, part of your decision is likely based on a desire to save yourself the time of slogging through it yourself. A tax preparer with a secure upload portal, like our 2020 Tax Organizer, allows you to virtually send all your documents without having to worry about postage, making multiple trips into Madison to drop off documents, or going back and forth over email. To that last point, you’re also ensuring those documents are shared privately and securely with your tax preparer, so you’re not exposed to potential cybersecurity risks when it comes to your personal and financial information. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to send sensitive information and an encrypted upload option isn’t available, there is a way to encrypt yourself in Adobe or Microsoft Office, detailed in this piece from the Treasury Department.
You would be surprised how much of tax preparation is done by generating mounds of paper to give to your tax preparer. It doesn’t have to be this way! Let’s all strive to be more green throughout this process. Check in with your tax preparer to assure they can make this a (mostly) paper-free endeavor.
Expand The Location of Your Tax Services Professional
Before COVID-19 hit last March, where something was around Madison was likely one of the top criteria you considered when trying to plan any number of tasks – going out to eat, finding a groomer for your pet, picking up groceries, selecting a gym, and even using a tax prep professional. Convenience was the name of the game. Although COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, as far as convenience is concerned, the pandemic simply altered our approach. Now, it’s not just about a business location’s being convenient, it’s about the general accessibility of the services – things like food delivery and virtual doctor appointments. Having access to your tax preparer, whether it’s through virtual meetings or an open digital communication line, is likely more important now than their physical location in Madison.
Use Online Searches and Reviews to Gauge Tax Prep Quality
How did we function before the world of online reviews? It seems like second nature to head to Yelp! before you try that new restaurant or browse YouTube videos before clicking ‘Place Order’ on the latest must-have tech. Using reviews can be just as helpful when you’re looking for a tax service locally in the Madison area. But putting stock into a Google or Yelp! review for a service is a bit different than taking an Amazon product review at face value. Some businesses may offer incentives for leaving a review, or they may sponsor their listing on Yelp! or Google to appear among the top results. Even if you search for something along the lines of ‘Tax Services Madison WI,’ the first results will likely be national chains. It might take scrolling a full page or two to find a truly local tax preparation service. Without going too far into the weeds, local tax preparers don’t have the resources of a national tax company. That doesn’t mean they’re not good at what they do. It’s just that being shown first on Google is something that favors the larger companies. So, take a bit of time to explore several of the options that come up, rather than the one on top.
Know What Are You Being Charged
Like anything, it goes without saying that you should make sure you know exactly what you’re getting and what you’re paying for before you decide on a tax service. The online tax return companies have made this particularly apparent–you get halfway through your return when you find out you’ll have to pay a separate fee for your state return, or because you purchased a home in 2020, you’ll need to buy a more expensive tax package. The benefit of having your return prepared locally is that most firms like Walkner Condon Tax Services charge a flat rate without surprise add-on costs. Still, you should make it a point to clarify before you agree to the services.
If you have any questions about your 2020 return, even if you’ve already filed, don’t hesitate to reach out to our tax guru, Anna Lautenbach, MAcc, EA, CFP®, to schedule an appointment. You can also send her an email.