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John F. O'Hara

John F. O'Hara
731 W Skippack Pike  Blue Bell  PA 19422
Phone:  610-277-4060
Office:  215-643-3200
Cell:  267-481-1786
Fax:  267-354-6973

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Tax Time: 10 Tips for Hiring a CPA

February 8, 2016 1:36 am

Tax season’s here, and like many taxpayers, you may be considering hiring a tax preparer, or a certified public accountant (CPA), for filing services. As with many professions, it pays to do your homework before hiring.

“It’s important to thoroughly vet the person you select to prepare your taxes,” says Edward Karl, American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). “Your tax preparer will be handling critical financial and personal information for you. Be wary about who you hire.”

Karl recommends the following tips when choosing a preparer:

1. Get referrals. Ask relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers or others you trust in your community for referrals. Referrals are one of the best ways to locate a CPA.

2. Verify credentials. Many CPAs specialize in taxes, but not all tax preparers are CPAs.  Stringent state licensing rules—including education, examination and experience requirements—distinguish CPAs from other tax preparers. Confirm that the CPA is currently licensed. Most state boards of accountancy have websites that allow consumers to check the status of an individual’s license. 

3. Check for consumer complaints. Have complaints been filed against the tax preparer?  Have they been resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction? Have any lawsuits been filed?

4. Interview potential tax preparers. Meet with the tax preparer. What’s their area of expertise? Find out whether the preparer has other clients with your type of tax situation, how long they’ve been in business and whether they will be there year-round to serve not only your tax filing requirements, but also to help with future tax, college, retirement and business planning needs.

5. Ask how they bill. They may not be able to tell you exactly how much it will cost to prepare your tax return, but they should be willing to explain the basis of their fee structure. Is it hourly or a flat rate? Can they provide you with an estimate?

6. Question them about how they work. Will the tax practitioner prepare your return or will others prepare it? If others prepare it, will the practitioner review it and sign it? Do they use only internal staff or do they outsource work? Will they be available to respond to questions about the return from IRS or state officials?

7. Inquire about information security processes. How do they protect their clients’ personal and financial information? How many people will see your information? Is data encrypted? How do they protect against computer network breaches?  

8. Do your styles match? Ask about weekend or evening hours, how soon telephone calls are returned, how they use technology and what the timetable is for completing the return.

9. Confirm they have an IRS PTIN. All paid tax return preparers are required by law to have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and to include it and their signature on the returns they prepare for clients. The PTIN number is renewed each year.  Confirm that they have a PTIN by visiting the IRS website.

10. Watch for red flags. If the preparer says they will prepare an original tax return (not an amended return) for a percentage of the refund, commonly referred to as a contingent fee, walk away. Walk away, too, if the tax preparer won’t provide information about their fee or how they charge. Don’t hire a preparer who promises something without seeing your prior year’s return, who suggests taking a deduction or credit that makes you uncomfortable, who asks you to sign an incomplete or blank return, or who wants your refund to be deposited into their bank account instead of yours.

Source: AICPA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to File a Storm Damage Insurance Claim

February 8, 2016 1:36 am

Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies generally offer some coverage for damages incurred as a result of a storm. The key to receiving those benefits in a timely manner is to contact your insurance professional as soon as possible following the incident, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

When filing an insurance claim, the insurance company will ask you to complete a “proof of claim” form. In general, the claim should be filed within 60 days—this includes estimates, engineering reports and other documents to support your claim. In most cases, the insurance company will then send an adjuster to your home to assess the damage.

To file your claim, prepare a list of damaged items. Consider photographing or videotaping the extent of the damage, if it is safe to do so. Save receipts for what you spend on temporary repairs; the insurance company will provide reimbursement for these expenditures. Document everything.

If the damage to your home is so severe you need to relocate, notify your insurance company—standard homeowners and renters insurance policies pay for additional living expenses (ALE) if your home or apartment is uninhabitable.

Keep in mind that if you have a mortgage, your homeowners insurance may name both you and your mortgage lender on the settlement check. Even though your name is on the check, your lender likely will hold some or all of the insurance proceeds in an escrow account, to be released when it is time to pay the contractor.

Remember, also, that flood damage is not covered under standard homeowner and renters policies, and must be purchased separately through the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurer. To file a flood insurance claim, start by filling out a Notice of Loss form (Form 086-0-11). These can be picked up at your local FEMA assistance center, if needed. You must also complete, sign and submit a Proof of Loss form (Form 086-0-9) within 60 days of the flood.

As with the standard claims filing process, take photographs of any damaged or destroyed items before removing them from your home, beginning a dry-out or making repairs. Separate damaged from undamaged property and compile a written inventory. This list should include both damaged and destroyed property, as well as the approximate monetary value of each. Be sure to keep accurate records, including receipts and bills, to help the adjuster prepare a loss estimate.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.