First let’s discuss finding a tax preparer in San Francisco or a San Francisco CPA. I tend to focus on startups, Kickstarter / Indiegogo, and technology companies. If someone is in “tech” then it is a great match, as I also work on educational Apps time to time. While I can and do work with high-net worth individuals as I have a background in this, it is not my primary focus. High-net worth entrepreneurs, however, are. If you need a CPA, talk to your friends and interview different firms.
Should you file own taxes?
No. You should not “do” your own taxes. Well… That may seem like a bit of a biased answer.
If you only have a job and a bit of interest income, go ahead and do it yourself if you want. The advantage of doing your own taxes is that you are generally taking an initiative to understand your earnings and tax scenario. But the biggest downside is that you are only accomplishing your own basic needs with questionable accuracy. Any opportunities for planning, financial insight, or advising must be done by you, without a professional background.
High earners and equity compensated employees should not file their own taxes. High earners are better off spending their time doing something else than messing with tax software during nights and weekends. Clients that are best served educate themselves in financial and tax matters so they can ask informed questions and receive proper advice. They do not waste time keeping up with the nuances of tax compliance or the tedium of interpreting tax statements.
Investors who trade with taxable accounts or own real estate should generally not file their own taxes. While the general concepts of tax reporting are within reach of the average investor, it is unlikely that they will file correctly. Blame the IRS, blame the software, blame the forms: It just gets too messy to do it right. It is possible to do it right some of the time, but there can be years which proper carryovers are not treated correctly. The risk of messing it up one year is not worth it. If you receive a K-1 from a partnership, you are practically committed to having a professional assist you. Client prepared returns with K-1s are nearly always a disaster.
Business owners and consultants should not be doing their own taxes. Some business owners use software to file their return and have the dubious benefit of taking improper deductions (fraud). So while it is possible to do your own return, it is most likely incorrect in many areas. Tax reporting in the 21st century is more than just calculating taxable income. There are several different disclosure requirements and carryover complication that is beyond the scope of this article. A good preparer will not only keep you in compliance, but be able to plan and advise around your entire individual, business, and family situation.
So if you are tight on cash and have a very basic return, maybe you can save some “Benjamin’s” (hundred dollar bills) and fire up your favorite tax software. Best, however, to establish a lasting relationship with a CPA or highly qualified accountant who cares. Find a fit for you. Find someone you enjoy communicating with and that will do more than just a tax return that your software can do.
Other resources from John Gillingham:
Learn Accounting: http://accountingplay.com/
My Innovative Accounting Books: Amazon Kindle