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Do you need an accountant?

Tax time isn’t the only time you should enlist the help of a professional

POSTED: April 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Robin Michener Nathan/The Times

Blair Diaz, a certified public accountant, works Thursday afternoon in her Green Street office. She said tax time isn't the only time people may need to seek help from an accountant.

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Tax time often brings about the question of when one needs professional help on their finances.

But professional accountants are quick to point out that pondering the question days before your return is due is a little too late. The April 15 tax deadline is a little more than a week away.

J.C. Smith, a consultant with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, said financial management is the top reason businesses either succeed or fail.

"Unless you are trained in finance to read a balance sheet, you really need to go out and get yourself a bookkeeping service or a CPA," Smith said. "Doing without help is like going 10 years without seeing a doctor," he said. "There could be a time bomb sitting there waiting to explode."

But the need for accounting help also extends to individuals, according to Blair Diaz, a certified public accountant who practices in Gainesville."When someone has something unusual happen in a year or when they start investing is a time to consult an accountant," Diaz said.

"If you have stock activity, they should go and see an accountant to make sure they are taking advantage of all the tax deductions that are available for investment activity."

She said another important time to consult an accountant is during a divorce.

"It’s important to make sure they are filing their tax return properly," she said.

Diaz said that clients have come to her after using do-it-yourself tax preparation software or companies that have mass produced tax returns.

"Those people aren’t aware of all the deductions that are out there. As CPAs, we go to school and have continuing education to keep up with the tax law. There are potential deductions that people are not taking advantage of," she said.

She said that another benefit of using a tax professional is reliability; the person will likely be there long after the taxes are filed.

"A lot of tax preparation firms have people who might work in accounting and want some extra money during tax season. But they might not do it every year and there is a lot of turnover," she said.

Like Smith, Diaz said business owners should use a professional tax preparer.

"A lot of people are operating small businesses and consulting firms out of their homes," she said. "They are essentially self-employed and might not get the deductions they’re entitled to for things like home offices."

While many professionals are good at their line of work, accounting is not often their specialty."They may be the greatest artisan, plumber, architect or shopkeeper, but accounting is one of those things they don’t want to deal with and often put it off for as long as they can," Smith said.

He said that fledgling businesses sometimes brush aside the need for outside help.

"Who’s going to know the tax law better than a CPA," Smith said.



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