If you don't use a tax preparation software program and don't want to prepare your taxes yourself, how should you go about finding a tax pro to do your taxes? Here are some tips:

Ask for referrals from people whose business savvy you respect. Any accountant can buy advertising, but you can't buy satisfied clients.

Ask for an interview. The accountant should be willing to give you some time (at no charge) to discuss and assess your situation. At that time, ask the following questions:

  • How big is your firm? (You want to determine how important your business will be and avoid ending up as a little frog in a very big pond.)
  • What are your fees and billing policies? (Ask for an estimate.)
  • Who exactly will be preparing my taxes -- you or somebody else? If I have problems or questions, do I speak with you?
  • What are your continuing professional education (CPE) requirements, and how many CPE hours do you normally take each year? (If he or she exceeds the requirements, that's a good sign.)
  • What research material do you use and subscribe to? (Answers such as "CCH," "Research Institute," and "BNA" are encouraging. If the answer is merely the current Federal Tax Handbook, run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. Sometimes, complicated problems arise that require deep research. You don't want your tax geek just giving it a best shot. Being correct is always best when dealing with the IRS.)
  • If my return is audited, will you represent me before the IRS? (Your accountant should go instead of you, not with you. If the accountant sources out the audit work, think twice before signing up. If he or she insists that you also be present at an audit, think a third time.)
  • Can you get the return done in a few weeks?
  • Finally, select someone you're comfortable with. You might stumble upon the best tax technician in the world, but if you aren't comfortable with that person, you'll hesitate to call him or her and might not provide the information needed to do a good job for you.

For more tax guidance, head to the IRS website or the Fool's Tax Center, where we feature articles on a host of tax topics.

And by the way, if thinking about taxes makes your head hurt and you'd like an actual person (a financial pro, no less) to talk to about your financial situation, look into our TMF Money Advisor. It's a valuable service we're offering, featuring customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts. You need to make sure you're saving enough and well enough to meet all your needs.