Frequently Asked Questions

I have never used a CPA before, how are you different from my old tax preparer?

How does the tax return preparation process work at Higgins & Smith?

What do I need to bring for my initial Higgins & Smith tax appointment?

My old tax preparer prepared the return while I waited. Why don’t you do it this way?

How long will it take for my return to be completed?

I have an easy return. Why does it take so long for it to be completed?

Do you have a cutoff for receiving returns to be completed by the April 15th Deadline?

I don’t have all my tax documents yet, should I go ahead and bring what I have?

I live out of state. Can you still do my taxes?

How much do you charge?

How can I minimize my return preparation fee?

When do I pay my return preparation fee?

Can you take your fee out of my refund?

What is an engagement letter?

I already signed the engagement letter, why do I have to sign e-file forms too?

Why do my spouse and I both have to sign the e-file forms?


I have never used a CPA before, how are you different from my old tax preparer?

The IRS does not currently have any requirements for tax preparers which can make it difficult to evaluate the competency of people claiming to be tax professionals. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are licensed and regulated under state law. In the State of Georgia, CPAs must complete post-graduate education, pass a rigorous test and complete ongoing continuing education requirements of 80 hours every two years to remain licensed. Not all CPAs are familiar with the tax law as there are many areas of accounting. At Higgins & Smith, we have three experienced CPAs on staff whose primary focus is the income tax area. Two of the three will have some role in every tax return we prepare.
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How does the tax return preparation process work at Higgins & Smith?

For new clients, the first step is to schedule an appointment with one of our CPA’s. You may do this by calling our office or requesting an appointment via the website. At your appointment, your CPA will go over your prior year return and current year documents and answer any questions you may have. After you leave, your return will be assigned to a member of our staff for preparation. After preparation is complete, the return will be passed to a second staff member for review. Once the review is complete, your CPA will contact you to let you know the return is complete and ready for your signature(s). Once you have signed e-file forms, our office will electronically file your return. For existing clients, we offer several alternate options for tax appointments including drop-off or mail in of documents with no appointment and exit conference appointments focusing on tax planning in lieu of the traditional appointment prior to preparation.
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What do I need to bring for my initial Higgins & Smith tax appointment?

All clients should bring at minimum, a full copy of your prior year tax return and your current year tax documents. For small business owners, we also need prior depreciation schedules (sometimes included with your prior tax return but not always) and a backup of your QuickBooks file or other accounting system. Please bring any spreadsheets in electronic format.
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My old tax preparer prepared the return while I waited. Why don’t you do it this way?

The majority of tax returns we prepare are simply too complex to complete while you wait. Having the time to fully research issues, consult other professionals and ponder if there might be a better tax treatment for an item is essential to our practice. Even for simple returns, mistakes in data entry can be made. Our process of having two professionals involved in every return helps prevent those errors and offers two different perspectives on the most beneficial tax position for each client.
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How long will it take for my return to be completed?

It depends. While each year varies to some extent, in the four weeks between February 15th and March 15th, we typically receive 60% of our workload for the entire season. If we receive your return during that time frame, it will probably take us longer than we’d like to complete it. Returns received prior to February 15th are typically completed in one to two weeks. Returns received in late February typically take two to three weeks. March arrivals can generally expect their return to be completed in three to four weeks.
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I have an easy return. Why does it take so long for it to be completed?

We work on returns in the order in which they are received in our office. While you might have an easy return that will only take an hour or two of our time, the return in front of you may be complex and require a day or more from our professional staff. Additionally, because tax season is so compressed, bringing in your return during the peak of the season (mid February to mid March) means that it will take longer to move through our process.
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Do you have a cutoff for receiving returns to be completed by the April 15th Deadline?

Yes. We normally establish our cutoff date in early March based on the work already in our office and expectation of work to be received from existing clients. Historically, our cutoff date has been between March 20 and March 31. To ensure your return can be completed by the deadline, we encourage you to get your information in at the earliest possible date.
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I don’t have all my tax documents yet, should I go ahead and bring what I have?

In most cases, no. For clients who anticipate having all their documents by the April deadline, please wait and bring them all at once. Working with incomplete information means more time spent on returns and a greater potential for errors. When we receive your complete information together, we are able to work on your return more efficiently and effectively. For clients who anticipate needing to extend their return, we can use key numbers from your tax documents to determine if you need to make a payment with your extension. In this case, it would be appropriate to submit partial information so that we can perform this analysis.
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I live out of state. Can you still do my taxes?

We certainly can and do service many out-of-state clients. We gladly receive tax documents via the mail and online via our secure portal. We can arrange for a telephone conference or virtual web conference to go over information as needed for our long-distance clients.
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How much do you charge?

It depends. We bill based on the amount of time your tax return takes our professional staff to complete. This varies widely from client to client even for those whose tax returns appear very similar on the surface. In general, our starting rate for individual returns is $300.
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How can I minimize my return preparation fee?

The state of your records is the biggest determining factor in how long your return takes our staff and therefore how much it costs.

1. Completing our provided tax organizer or your own summary (but not both as duplication of information increases time) helps our staff move efficiently through your return.

2. Limit the documents you submit to us to those we truly need—W2’s, 1099’s and K-1’s

3. Summarize your medical, charitable (for gifts of less than $500) and business receipts on the organizer or on your own summary.

4. Provide all information we need at the same time.

5. When we contact you with a question about your return, provide answers to us as quickly as possible. When we have to go back to a return days or weeks later, we often have to duplicate efforts refreshing our memory.

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When do I pay my return preparation fee?

Our fees for the preparation of your return are due when the return is complete and ready for your signature. Our invoice will need to be paid in full before we will e-file your return. If you need to make alternate payment arrangements, please speak with your CPA prior to return preparation.
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Can you take your fee out of my refund?

No. This is not a service we provide.
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What is an engagement letter?

An engagement letter describes what services we are to provide, our responsibility for those services as well as your responsibility as a client. We require a new engagement letter be signed annually for all tax and accounting clients.
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I already signed the engagement letter, why do I have to sign e-file forms too?

The engagement letter simply covers our responsibility to each other as tax preparer and client. E-file forms are your way of declaring to the IRS that you believe your return is correct and approve the return being submitted on your behalf. They include key numbers like your adjusted gross income and refund or balance due so they cannot be pre-printed and they must be re-printed any time a return is changed.
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Why do my spouse and I both have to sign the e-file forms?

When you file jointly, both husband and wife must sign e-file forms because you have joint liability for the amounts being reported.
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