Diamond Certified Companies are Rated Highest in Quality and Helpful Expertise.

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Diamond certified companies are top rated and guaranteed

Why Trust Diamond Certified Tax Preparation Firms Rated Highest in Quality?

Photo: Russell Barnett, EA (2016)

You are the customer. If your goal is to choose a tax preparation firm that will deliver high customer satisfaction and quality, you’ll feel confident in choosing a Diamond Certified tax preparation company. Each has been rated Highest in Quality in the most accurate ratings process anywhere. And you’re always backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee. Here’s why the Diamond Certified ratings and certification process will help you find a top-rated tax preparation service and is unparalleled in its accuracy, rigor and usefulness:

1) Accuracy: All research is performed by live telephone interviews that verify only real customers are surveyed, so you’ll never be fooled by fake reviews.

2) Statistical Reliability: A large random sample of past customers is surveyed on an ongoing basis so the research results you see truly reflect a Diamond Certified company’s top-rated status.

3) Full Disclosure: By clicking the name of a company above you’ll see the exact rating results in charts and read verbatim survey responses as well as researched articles on each qualified company.

4) Guaranteed: Your purchase is backed up with mediation and the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee, so you can choose with confidence.

Click on the name of a Diamond Certified company above to read ratings results, researched articles and verbatim customer survey responses to help you make an informed decision.

More than 200,000 customers of local companies have been interviewed in live telephone calls, and only companies that score Highest in Quality in customer satisfaction–a 90+ on a 100 scale–as well as pass all of the credential-based ratings earn Diamond Certified. By requiring such a high score to qualify, the Diamond Certified program eliminates mediocre and poorly performing companies. Read detailed information about the ratings and certification process.

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Russell Barnett is a veteran of the tax preparation industry and owner of Russell Barnett, EA, a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (408) 341-9924 or by email.

Russell Barnett

diamond certified contributor profile and expert article

Russell Barnett: The Accountable Accountant

By Suzanne Carroll, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

SAN JOSE — Russell Barnett started college as a music major, but eventually, he realized that his true talent was in arranging accounts rather than compositions. Perhaps the clearest sign of this was when he passed his qualifying exam to be an enrolled agent—a specialist in tax preparation for individuals, corporations, trusts or any entity required to report taxes. This test usually requires years of study and several attempts to pass, but Russell did so not only on his first try, but while he was still in school working toward his accounting degree. When he passed, he was astonished, but he also knew he was finally on the right career path. “Being an enrolled agent is just my calling,” he explains. “I’ve finally ended up where I’m supposed to be. I like my work, especially the people I get to meet and the opportunity to help my clients.”

After working for other firms for a couple of years, Russell decided to strike out on his own in 2007. He says being his own boss has allowed him a level of flexibility that has come in handy for balancing work and life. “Obviously, during the tax season the time commitments are intense, but the rest of the year I have a lot more discretion as to when I’m in the office or when I’m working from home, which allows me to spend time with my wife, Jolene, and our two kids.”

A California native, Russell has lived in the San Jose area since he was six years old and loves that all his family lives in the region, too. When asked what he likes most about the Bay Area, he points to the region’s vibrancy and embrace of technology, describing himself as a bit of a techie. Russell also appreciates that most residents care first and foremost about results. “If you can do the work, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like or what degree you have on the wall,” he says. “It’s just about the results.”

Outside of work, Russell’s life centers around activities with his young children, but he still makes time for music and enjoys playing the ukulele. When asked how he might spend his retirement, he says he hasn’t considered it much since it’s still decades away, but he imagines he’ll spend more time playing the ukulele, enjoying his family, volunteering and helping out around the house.

In his life and career, Russell acknowledges the importance of accountability. “The buck stops at my desk, for good or bad,” he affirms. “I’m accountable to each of my clients, which means making sure all their accounts are handled with accuracy and honesty. Overall, I think simply being true to your word is at the heart of treating people well, and that’s what I always try to do.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Neither. I get my caffeine from Diet Coke.

Q: Do you prefer to read fiction or non-fiction?
A: Fiction. I tend to skew toward the fantasy genre.

Q: What’s your favorite local restaurant?
A: Kubota in San Jose.

Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: “Big Fish.”

Q: Do you speak any foreign languages?
A: I was a foreign exchange student in Japan for six months in high school. By the time I left, I could speak Japanese pretty well, but I’ve definitely fallen out of practice.

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How to Avoid Tax-Season Headaches


SAN JOSE — Many people dread doing their taxes because they suddenly discover they owe more money than they expected or feel rushed to file all the paperwork on time. To avoid situations like these, it’s important to make sure… Read more

Expert Video Tip

Video: Assessing Your Tax Withholdings

Complete Video Transcription:

SAN JOSE — Host, Sarah Rutan: When it comes to income taxes, many taxpayers overlook their yearly withholdings. Today we’re in San Jose with Diamond Certified Expert… Read more




Lacerte Tax Analyzer
H&R Block Tax Preparation Software
Intuit Tax Preparation Software
TaxSlayer Tax Preparation Software
ATX Tax Preparation Software
TaxBrain Deluxe
OLT Online Taxes
Express Tax Refund
CFS Tax Software
Drake Tax Software
TaxACT Tax Preparation Software
Once Price Taxes

business tax accounting
self-employment tax preparation
online tax preparation
professional tax return filing preparation
corporate tax preparation
tax filing software assistance
electronic tax filing
payroll tax preparation
personal income tax preparation services
small business tax preparation
capital gains tax preparation services
property tax preparation
tax refund assistance
international tax preparation
expatriate (ex-pat) tax return services
federal income tax preparation
state tax preparation

Blossom Valley
East Palo Alto
Holy City
Los Altos
Los Altos Hills
Los Gatos
Monte Sereno
Monte Vista
Morgan Hill
Mountain View
Mt Hamilton
New Almaden
Palo Alto
Redwood Estates
San Jose
San Martin
Santa Clara


Know What You Want
What to Ask Yourself Before Hiring Santa Clara Tax Preparers

When you shop for a tax preparation company in Mountain View, Milpitas, Palo Alto or any community in Santa Clara County, experience is paramount; so too is current knowledge of tax issues, laws and trends.

In addition to making sure that the company you select has the appropriate registrations and certifications, make sure you ask certain questions to help you flesh out the best tax preparation company.

Sample questions include:

  • Do my tax situation and my finances warrant a tax preparation company?
  • Does the tax preparation company have experience preparing returns for others in my situation?
  • Does the tax preparation company maintain an office year round in Santa Clara County?
  • Do I want a Diamond Certified tax preparation company that is rated best in quality and backed by the Diamond Certified Guarantee?
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What To Ask In Person
Questions to Ask In Tax Preparers in Person

When you visit the Santa Clara County companies that are on your short list, ask questions that help you see the firm’s actual experience. You also want to understand the company’s processes and review its policy and procedures.

Sample questions to ask CPAs and tax preparers include these:

  • Who will sign my completed tax returns?
  • Is there an extra charge if you must obtain records for me?
  • Can I have a copy of your written privacy policy?
  • Do you meet state of California tax preparer insurance requirements?
  • May I see your bond certificate?
  • Will you represent me with the IRS if a situation arises?
  • Can you represent me in the Santa Clara County tax court?
  • Is your registration/certification with CTEC current?
  • Do you have proof that you meet the education requirements for Santa Clara County Tax Preparers?
  • Do you maintain an office in ______ (i.e. Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain View) year round? Can I meet with you after April 15th for follow-ups?
  • My tax situation is complicated; do you have experience addressing situations such as mine?
  • How long will it take to complete my return?
  • Will you provide me with a copy of my completed tax return?
  • Will you go over the finished tax return with me?
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  • What To Ask References
    Questions for Tax Preparers’ References

    Your best option is to choose a Diamond Certified tax preparation company. Every Diamond Certified tax preparation company in Santa Clara County has passed an in-depth ratings process that most other companies can’t pass. If you want quality service from a tax preparation company in Santa Clara County, you can have confidence choosing a Diamond Certified company.

    You can go online to access Diamond Certified reports all certified companies. That’s because all research is performed in live telephone interviews of actual customers, so you’ll never be fooled by fake reviews.

    If you can’t find a Diamond Certified tax preparation company within reach, you’ll have to do some research on your own. Be sure to call some of the references provided by your tax preparation company, but keep in mind, that the references you receive from the tax preparation company are not equal in value to the large random sample of customers surveyed during the Diamond Certified ratings process.

    If you wish to call references on your own, ask for a list of the company’s 10 most recent customers. This will help avoid them giving you the names of only customers they know were satisfied.

    Questions to ask tax preparer references include these:

    • How long have you been using the tax preparation company in ______ (i.e. San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara or Mountain View)?
    • Was the tax preparation company professional?
    • Do you believe you received personal attention from this tax preparer/CPA/EA?
    • Were you audited? Did the Santa Clara County tax preparation company represent you?
    • Were your questions answered adequately?
    • Did they seem knowledgeable about current tax laws?
    • Do you believe the helped you achieve the lowest tax liability possible?
    • Would you hire this tax preparer again?
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  • Review Your Options
    Hire a Tax Preparation Expert in Santa Clara County

    The Diamond Certified symbol has been awarded to companies that scored Highest in Quality in an accurate ratings process.

    By now you probably know more than enough to make a sound decision and select the best tax preparation expert in Santa Clara County. Chances are you also have a good idea of the required expertise of your next tax preparer. You should also have a good idea of the rates in your area, including Milpitas, Palo Alto, Cupertino and Menlo Park.

    You can now confidently select the company that meets your requirements. Review the research you completed on the preparer and select the one that most closely match your criteria.

    Remember that your choice of tax preparation company impacts your tax liability, so do one last review to make sure that the company you select can answer a firm yes to each of the questions below.

    • Will the tax preparers you interviewed stand behind their work?
    • Can these tax preparation services represent me with the IRS or in tax court?
    • Will they keep my information confidential?
    • Will they consult me before taking risks with my tax presentation?
    • Will these tax services make sure that I understand every aspect of my tax presentation?
    • Will they provide strategies for future tax savings?
    • Do the tax preparation centers in Santa Clara County I interviewed offer convenient hours?
    • Will they be available after April 15th?
    • Can I afford their tax filing services?
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  • How To Work With
    Cooperating With Your Tax Preparer or CPA

    Your ultimate goal is to find a tax expert who will minimize your tax exposure. You want a preparer who is competent in the areas you need help, but you also want an ethical preparer. Make sure you perform a background check on the preparer that you select.

    If the tax preparation company offers you an accountant, check with the California Board of Accountancy to make sure that the CPA has a current license and that he is in proper standing with the board.

    If you are offered an attorney, find out if she is a member of the California Bar Association. If they boast of being IRS enrolled agents, perform some research to find out if they have been cited for any activities that warranted disciplinary actions. It is also crucial that you ensure that the tax preparation company you select is legally preparing taxes in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and the rest of Santa Clara County.

    This means that they should have current registrations, meet the CTEC education requirements and have the proper bonds. Even though the IRS now has rules that require registration of all paid tax preparers, remember that California also has strict rules regarding paid tax preparers.   You can easily verify that your tax preparer is legal on CTEC’s website.

    Now That You’ve Found a CPA that Meets Your Needs
    Set the ground rules after you select an Santa Clara County tax preparer. Although your tax preparer is the expert, make sure that they understand that you must have the final nod on all decisions concerning your tax presentation.

    Draw up a contract that clearly states that they will check with you before making decisions and will not make assumptions about your information.

    Any unavoidable judgment call should be in writing along with the logic leading to the decision. Both the IRS and CTEC require that paid preparers sign returns that they complete. Make sure that your preparer abides by this rule. Your preparer’s signature along with her ID is one indication that she is willing to stand behind her work.

    It also is a mechanism that the tax boards can use to hold preparers accountable for their work. No matter how you prepare files and send your return to the IRS, make certain that you get a copy for your records.

    Ways To Make Your Santa Clara Tax Preparer’s Job Easier
    You must do your homework before hiring an Santa Clara County tax preparation company.  Once you find an ideal tax preparer, there are steps you can take to make sure that you get the most out of the partnership.

    Ask for an initial consultation—these are usually free. Sometimes tax preparers will come to your home, even if you live in smaller localities such as Campbell or Morgan Hill.  Take lots of notes during the initial consultation, and make sure that you provide the tax preparer with every piece of information that he needs to complete your return.

    Be organized. Be prompt.  Ask for a checklist of the items they will need from you.  Present this information to the tax preparer early.

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  • Be a Good Customer
    How Can You Be a Good Tax Preparation Customer?

    It’s the tax preparer’s responsibility to present your tax situation in the best light and obtain the lowest tax liability for you. You play a huge role in helping the tax preparation company reach this goal.

    Follow these simple steps when you hire an Santa Clara County tax preparation company.

    Gather all necessary documentation:  Organization is crucial here.  Gather all supporting documentation and organize it.  Do not toss it all in a shoe box and leave it up to your tax preparer to sort.  If you are paying by the hour, it will cost you.  Besides, you do not want to bring out the grumpiness in your preparer.  Remember, you want the lowest tax liability possible, and if your preparer must sort through mounds of unrelated documents and receipts, he may miss a few.

    You will need to forward personal information such as social security numbers and driver’s license for each family member that you will include on your return. You also will need to provide income and tax information along with any expense that can be used to reduce your tax liability. Don’t forget dependent care expenses and retirement contributions as these credits also can help to reduce the tax amount that you owe.

    Keep storage with files for important items:  If you are near the filing deadline, this point may be mute for now, but remember it for next year.  Track all of your expenses and store the information in one place. Make files for your business records, mortgage and other long-term documents.  Be prepared to take this entire storage system to your preparer—make sure it is neat and organized. At the very least, make a checklist of all the items that you must take to the preparer.  Make sure that you have everything on your list checked off before venturing to your preparers office.  If you have all of the necessary documents, your preparer will be able to complete your return more quickly.

    Maintain consistent logs: This is especially important if you own a business or travel for work.  Record automobile, travel and entertainment expenses, and keep track of your laptop and mobile phone usage. In fact, log any business related expense and make sure you attach receipts where applicable.  It is a good idea to keep your cancelled checks or credit card slips especially if you can’t find your original receipts and must recreate them (if you recreate receipts, make sure you mark them as recreated so no one accuses you of forging documents)

    Past Years Returns:  Your storage should also have a file for past years returns.  Your tax preparer will be interested in those to see what you’ve been doing in the past. If you missed something, she can help you recoup.  If you did something wrong, she can help you amend. Also, the Santa Clara County tax preparer may be able to copy some information from your past returns and will appreciate the time he saves.

    Remain Professional: Although the tax preparer will be digging into some very intimate areas of your life, remember that your relationship is a business arrangement.  Be courteous and cooperative.  Display the attitude you wish to receive.  Provide complete information quickly and follow the advice they give. You are free to deviate from their advice, but remember your decision next year, if you find yourself with a higher tax liability.

    Pay Promptly: Always pay for services as agreed.  Whether you are requesting one-time services or you are building an ongoing relationship.  Also, remember, if the tax board audits you, you want your preparer to represent you without prejudice.

    Why Would You Want to Be a Good Tax Preparation Service Customer?
    Tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County appreciate customers who are straightforward, honest and easy to work with. Your good customer behavior sets the tone from your end and creates an environment conducive to a good relationship. Things may very well go smoother and any problems may be more easily resolved.

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Check The Work
Ask for Written Guarantees on All Tax Preparation Services

Do not allow misunderstandings about invoicing to tarnish your relationship with your tax preparer. Ask questions and get everything in writing, including and especially guarantees on the accuracy of the tax return filings.

Do not leave anything to uncertainty. Take every opportunity to clarify your goals and the services for which you are paying.

Tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County may charge per form, schedule, worksheet or any combination of these items. Hourly rates are not typical for tax preparation, but it is possible. Get an itemization of what you will pay for before the company begins work on your file. Find out when consulting fees are due and pay accordingly.

You can reasonably expect the Santa Clara County tax preparation company to back up the work they perform. Get their guarantee to stand behind their work in writing.

No matter where you are located in Santa Clara County, be it San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara or elsewhere, tax preparers will typically overhaul your return again if the IRS notifies you that there is an error on your return. Still, you should get this service in writing.

Remember the insurance bond you verified in earlier steps?  If tax preparer is at fault for the error, the preparer’s liability insurance should pay for it.

When errors occur, the IRS may assess penalties and interest and you should be able to recoup these from your preparer—unless your contract states otherwise. Sometimes tax preparers will refund fees or a percentage of the fees if they make mistakes on your return.  Be sure to get the stipulations for recouping fees in writing.

Audits and errors are not equal.  Some tax preparation companies will offer only to serve as witnesses if you are audited, while others will offer to represent you during an audit. Representation usually comes with an additional price tag, and this service should be itemized in your contract.

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Written Warranties
Ask for Written Guarantees on All Tax Preparation Services

Do not allow misunderstandings about invoicing to tarnish your relationship with your tax preparer. Ask questions and get everything in writing, including and especially guarantees on the accuracy of the tax return filings.

Do not leave anything to uncertainty. Take every opportunity to clarify your goals and the services for which you are paying.

Tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County may charge per form, schedule, worksheet or any combination of these items. Hourly rates are not typical for tax preparation, but it is possible. Get an itemization of what you will pay for before the company begins work on your file. Find out when consulting fees are due and pay accordingly.

You can reasonably expect the Santa Clara County tax preparation company to back up the work they perform. Get their guarantee to stand behind their work in writing.

No matter where you are located in Santa Clara County, be it San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara or elsewhere, tax preparers will typically overhaul your return again if the IRS notifies you that there is an error on your return. Still, you should get this service in writing.

Remember the insurance bond you verified in earlier steps?  If tax preparer is at fault for the error, the preparer’s liability insurance should pay for it.

When errors occur, the IRS may assess penalties and interest and you should be able to recoup these from your preparer—unless your contract states otherwise. Sometimes tax preparers will refund fees or a percentage of the fees if they make mistakes on your return.  Be sure to get the stipulations for recouping fees in writing.

Audits and errors are not equal.  Some tax preparation companies will offer only to serve as witnesses if you are audited, while others will offer to represent you during an audit. Representation usually comes with an additional price tag, and this service should be itemized in your contract.

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Top 10 Requests
Service Requests Made of Tax Preparers in Santa Clara County

Tax preparers and CPAs in Santa Clara County offer varying services and experience. The following items are some of the most popular requests made of local tax preparers.

Talk with your CPA or tax preparer about what services they can offer you.

Business Tax and Financial Planning
Tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County provide comprehensive tax strategies to help businesses remain compliant and deal with business issues. They focus on reducing tax liabilities.

Business Tax Return Filing / Corporate Tax Returns
Santa Clara County tax consultants advise businesses on the best tax strategies to maximize business refunds and minimizing business income taxes

Electronic Tax Filing Services
Electronic filing is a quick easy way to send your return to the IRS. Because the format is easy for the IRS to process, if you are due a refund, when you select direct deposit, you may receive your money even more quickly. According to the IRS, electronic filing cuts your filing time in half when compared to filing a paper return.

Financial Consulting & Planning
Financial planning and consulting involves an overhaul of your entire financial situation. The financial consultant may help you plan for retirement, set goals for funding your children’s educational needs, plan your estate and even help you develop a satisfactory budget.

International Tax Planning
With the emergence technological advances, businesses and individuals in Santa Clara County are making use of a global market. International tax planning involves an analysis of individual or business needs. The tax preparation company then uses their analysis to devise strategies to manage international and domestic tax requirements.

Personal Income Tax Return
Personal income tax return involves creating tax strategies to maximize income tax refund and minimize personal tax liability.

Tax Planning Services in Santa Clara County
Your tax preparer will analyze your current practices and will determine an overall strategy to minimize your tax exposure.

Tax Audit Representation
Tax audit representation can include representation before the IRS or California tax authorities. Representation can include written correspondence or physical appearance in tax court.

Tax Return Preparation Services in Santa Clara County
Many tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County offer preparation services for individuals and all forms of businesses

Transaction Structuring
The tax preparer reviews upcoming transactions and provides suggestions or alternatives that will help reduce your tax impact.

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Glossary Of Terms
Glossary of Terms for Tax Preparation Company

The U.S. tax code is extensive and it changes frequently.  Its level of detail and expanse makes it impossible for any one person to grasp every aspect of the code.  This may be the reason tax preparers often specialize in certain areas rather than presume expert knowledge in all areas.  You should familiarize yourself with some key terms so that you can communicate with your tax preparer and tax authorities in Santa Clara County.  Always ask questions if there are items on your return or in your tax plan that you do not understand.

ach credit
The ACH credit process allows you to move your money by telling your bank to debit your account and credit the state’s bank account.

Also known as: Automated Clearing House Credit

ach debit
The ACH debit procedure allows you to move money by telling the state to electronically debit a bank account you own for the amount you owe to the state.

Also known as: Automated Clearing House debit

adopted child
This is a child you have legally adopted. After legal adoption, the child is considered yours with equal status of a child related to you by blood. Before legal adoption, the child is considered yours for head of household purposes as long as the child was placed in your home by a legal organization.

AGI is the acronym for adjusted gross income. It is your net income from all sources minus all California payment adjustments.

Also known as: Adjusted gross income

Congress enacted AMT or Alternative Minimum Tax rules in 1969 to ensure that the rich people pay taxes even if they are eligible for enough deductions that lower or completely eliminate their tax liability.

Also known as: Alternative Minimum Tax

annual report
Annual reports summarize an organization’s activities that occur during the year. It can also be a statistical profile of California individuals and people in business who pay taxes.

If you were married in the year, but the marriage was later annulled, you will be treated as if you weren’t married during that year. Treatment of your marital status can greatly impact your tax liability.

Audits are official inspections of your return, typically by an independent group.

This process shields your info either via a login, or some other way, by authorizing the identity of groups on both parts of an internet trade before information exchange.

back taxes
Back taxes are basically overdue taxes.

BOE is a California State agency that administers sales and use, property, and special taxes.

Also known as: Board of Equalization

CalFile is a free, direct e-file that California residents can use to file personal income tax returns.

California public records act
The California Public Records Act gives the residents of California access to information that is in possession of an authorized public group.

capital gains tax
Capital gains tax refers to the tax that businesses must pay on the profits they make from sales.

A casualty is a high amount of damage done when a large scale catastrophe hits such as tsunamis and tornados.

Credits are ways to reduce your tax amount. You can receive tax credits for payments such as tuition and energy conservation expenses.

customer service number (csn)
Assigned to taxpayers each year by the Franchise Tax Board, the customer service number is a combination of your social security number and a four digit number. It is used to authenticate taxpayers and ensure confidentiality.

Deductions lower the amount of payment on which tax is due. You may choose to itemize your deductions or take advantage of the standard deduction.

Dependent are people that depend on you for care.  Claiming dependents on your return increases your personal exemptions.  You also may qualify for certain tax benefits when you claim dependents.

direct deposit
Direct deposit is an automatic payment procedure that lets tax preparation companies deposit your refunded tax money into your bank account.

disposable Earnings
Disposable earnings are an employee’s total earned payment minus legal reductions, which can include social security, state and federal income taxes.

earned income
Earned income includes wages plus salaries, tips and professional fees, along with net self-employment income, and any other compensation that you receive for performing.

earnings withholding order
This order is a continuous levy on a portion of your earnings. Earnings Withholding Orders are issued to individuals who owe an unresolved debt rendered by the California courts.

earnings withholding orders for taxes (for employers)
An Earnings Withholding Order for Taxes is a continuing levy on a percentage of a taxpayer’s earnings. They are issued for taxpayers who owe an unresolved delinquent tax debt.

The California Employment Development Department is a state agency that manages California payroll taxes.

Also known as: Employment Development Department

The E-File process electronically transmits your tax report to the IRS.

EFT is an acronym for electronic funds transfer. It is a convenient method of payment that helps prevent defaults on installment agreement. The efficiency of the EFT process also contributes to cost savings.

Also known as: Electronic Funds Transfer

Encryption methods help to ensure that only those you authorize can view your personal information. Encryption changes info into a form that is securely sent via the Internet. Once the data has been moved, it is translated using an encryption key.

filing status
Taxpayers are grouped in one of five categories.  These categories are referred to as filing statuses. Your filing status determines your tax bracket and how tax rules are applied to your situation.

financial hardship
Financial hardship occurs when you are experiencing extreme difficulties that prevent you from paying your tax bill. If you can’t pay your taxes upfront all at once, you may be able to claim financial hardship and make monthly payments to avoid back taxes.

form 1040
Form 1040 is the standard form that individuals use to file their annual tax report.

form 1099-misc
Form 1099-Misc is used to report miscellaneous income. Self-employed workers and workers who are not employees typically receive Form 1099-MISC from their clients.

form w-2
Employers issue Form W-2 to their employees.  It reports the employee’s annual income and any taxes or other deductions that reduced the employee’s income.

FTB is an authorized organization of California that is responsible for collecting the state’s personal and business income taxes.

Also known as: Franchise Tax Board

gross earnings
Gross earnings include wages, plus salary, commissions, and bonuses, vacation pay, or, basically, anything an employer pays an employee for personal services.

gross income
Gross income includes all payments you received from wages and salaries, market products, land, and services from all sources. Your gross income includes no deductions or adjustments.

head of household
You can claim the head of household status if you have dependents that depend on you for at least 50 percent of their care.

Income refers to monies you receive from investments and for services rendered.

innocent spouse
For joint return filers, the spouses are normally equally responsible for all tax liabilities, penalties and interest. You or your spouse may qualify for innocent spouse status if you meet certain legal requirements. This status relieves you of your responsibility to pay joint tax liabilities, penalties, and interest.

installment agreement
You may request to pay your tax liability in monthly installments if you cannot pay your taxes upfront.

international tax
International taxes are taxes levied by foreign countries for conducting business in that country.

itemized deductions
Itemized deductions are expenses that you claim to reduce your tax liability. Some itemized deductions must meet IRS limits before they can be claimed, and your itemized deduction should be greater than the standard deduction to warrant itemizing in the first place.

A levy is a legal order from the court that compels a third group to withhold a portion of your payments to eliminate a debt.

Also known as: wage garnishment or wage assessment

liens are authorized claims against personal property to eliminate a debt.

The modified adjusted gross income is used to limit tax reductions or credits. Modified adjusted gross income can be confusing because its definition changes depending on the tax credit or deduction in question.

nonrefundable renter’s credit
The Nonrefundable Renter’s Credit is a personal income tax credit that you can use to to offset your tax liability; however, you must have a tax liability to claim the credit.

nonresident alien
For any period that you are neither a resident alien nor a U.S. citizen, you are a nonresident alien. Nonresident aliens typically cannot claim the head of household filing status and they must file form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ to report U.S. income and pay applicable taxes.

OIC is an acronym for offer in compromise. The offer in compromise program allows taxpayers to pay a lower amount of their non-disputed tax liability.  To qualify for an OIC, you cannot have income, assets or means to pay the tax bill now or in the foreseeable future.

payroll tax
Payroll taxes include the amounts that your employer withholds from your wages to pay for federal income taxes. Your portion of the FICA taxes that allocates to social security and Medicare also are included in payroll taxes.

personal exemption
Personal exemptions help to reduce your tax bill. Each taxpayer is allotted a personal exemption plus one exemption for each dependent.

phase-in and phase-out limits
Phase-in and phase-out limits are the dollar thresholds in the tax law at which you as the taxpayer become eligible or ineligible for credits and deductions.

power of attorney
Granting power of attorney to someone allows that person to legally make decisions on your behalf.  You can also use power of attorney documents to allow a designated person to communicate with tax authorities regarding issues that impact your tax liability.

property tax
Property is local tax assessed on property that you own.

ready return
Residents in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and all of California can file their state taxes via Ready Return without incurring filing fees. The state uses information from your last return to prefill the state tax return.

required e-file
Tax preparers in Mountain View, Milpitas, Palo Alto and throughout the state of California who prepared at least 100 California income tax returns per year must e-file the returns they prepare. Beginning in 2011, the IRS also has enacted a similar e-file requirement for tax preparers.

separate property
Separate property refers to property that a couple owned separately before marrying. It is also property that each spouse owns obtains after marriage and own separately. The spouse who owns the property may acquire the property through inheritance, bequest, as a gift or may purchase the property with separate funds.

standard deduction
Standard deduction refers to the basic deduction that taxpayers may subtract from their incomes.  You may choose to take the standard deduction rather than itemizing expenses. Your standard deduction is determined by your filing status.

taxable payment
The portion of your income on which tax is applied is referred to as taxable income

use tax
States that charge a sales tax apply a use tax when residents purchase goods via the Internet or out of state where no sales taxes apply. This means that you may pay a use tax if you purchase goods for use in the San Francisco Bay Area from a state that does not charge a sales tax.

Withholding refers to the amounts that your employer retains from your earnings.  The employer uses this portion of your earnings to pay taxes on the amount you earned.

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Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions for Tax Preparation Companies

Q: Why choose a Diamond Certified tax preparer?
A: Diamond Certified helps you choose a tax preparer with confidence by offering a list of top-rated local companies who have passed the country’s most in-depth rating process. Only tax preparers rated Highest in Quality earn the prestigious Diamond Certified award. Most companies can’t pass the ratings. American Ratings Corporation also monitors every Diamond Certified company with ongoing research and ratings. And your purchase is backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee. So you’ll feel confident choosing a Diamond Certified tax preparer.

Q: Can I count on tax preparation company to help me complete my business and personal taxes?
A: If you were prudent in your research and you selected a capable tax preparation firm, you can expect them to efficiently complete your business taxes.  Tax preparation companies with expertise in business taxes often will provide services that include business tax preparation, financial reporting and payroll services.  They may even give you advice on the most efficient ways to operate your business and avoid excessive tax exposure. Personal income taxes for business owners are often included in small business tax preparation services.

 Q: What additional services do tax preparation companies in Cupertino, Menlo Park, Campbell and Morgan Hill offer?
Typically tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County offer bookkeeping and payroll services, they prepare financial statements, and offer other general ledger services.

Q: Are tax preparation companies qualified to provide financial planning services?
A: The response to this question depends on the tax preparation company that you select.  Many tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County offer financial planning services and may help you with forecasting, tax planning and strategies and business succession.

Q: Do all tax preparation companies automatically offer electronic filing as part of their tax return preparation services?
Most tax preparation companies in Santa Clara County offer electronic filing as part of their tax preparation packages.  If you selected a preparer that completes at least 100 returns per year, IRS and state of California regulations requires that the preparer submit returns electronically.

Q: I have not received my W-2; what should I do?
Your employer must mail your W-2 by January 31.  If by February 15, you do still have not received your W2, contact the IRS for assistance.  Payees also must receive 1099s by February 15. The Santa Clara County can also assist you in obtaining missing forms. Remember, however, that the more preliminary ground work you cover before going to the tax preparation company, the sooner your return will be completed.

Q: How long will it take to complete my return?
The time it takes to complete your return depends on the complexity of your tax situation.  A simple tax return with relatively little issues may be completed in less than a day.  A complex return, may take much longer.  The time to locate forms and coordinate information may extend the time to complete your form. Delivering organized, well-documented information also helps to speed up the time it takes to complete your return.

Q: Who is responsible if my preparer makes a mistake on my return?
A:  If there are errors on your return, the IRS will charge you for any applicable penalties and interest.  You can usually recoup these amounts, and get the tax preparer to correct your return without charge if the preparer is at fault. If you selected a reputable tax preparer, chances are the preparer will do whatever it takes to correct your situation without any additional costs for you. Of course, this depends on the contract you signed.  Make sure this issue is clear in your contract.  If the fault is yours, the preparer may charge you to amend your return and you may not be able to recover the penalties and fees from your preparer.

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