Ask your tax pro if they charge for emailed questions

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Liz Urquhart didn't realize she would be billed for two emails sent to her tax preparer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Liz Urquhart didn't realize she would be billed for two emails sent to her tax preparer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

The cost of tax preparation varies on who you choose but also on what you pay for. You should know if your tax professional bills for more than just your return.

This is important if you haven't chosen a tax professional yet. Many charge based on the time it takes to prepare your return or the number of forms. But others charge just by time and it's important to understand the difference.

Liz Urquhart wanted to change tax professionals. She got a referral for Heritage Certified Public Accountants and paid them $400 to prepare her return. She says, for that price, she was hoping for a little more in the months ahead.

"I asked if I could get advice on some things, and they said, 'Oh sure, that's what we're here for. We're tax advisers, too,'" Urquhart said.

During 2016, Urquhart emailed Heritage two questions; one about Flexible Spending Accounts; the other about Social Security benefits. She says Heritage responded quickly and professionally. Then, when tax season came again in 2017, and Urquhart decided to go with a different tax preparer, Heritage billed her $126.

"I was like, whoa, they're charging me for two emails for asking two questions," Urquhart said.

The Heritage billing policy is based on time. Not just the time to complete returns, but any time spent on accounts. Urquhart agreed to the policy upfront but says she didn't clearly understand it.

"I don't think this is right and I don't think I should pay for two email responses," Urquhart said.

CBS 5 News suggested to Heritage that they could have mentioned the policy again before answering her emails, but at least Urquhart knows what to ask any future tax preparer.

"Ask them if you have a question about something, and you come back during the middle of the year, are they going to charge you," Urquhart said.

CBS 5 News talked to a tax industry leader in the Phoenix area. He told us Heritage's policy is consistent with many large, comprehensive tax firms, and the policy was disclosed upfront.

But we also learned that many smaller tax practices don't charge to answer calls and emails for up to a year after they prepare your return. So shop around and choose what service is best for your specific tax situation.

If fees are based on time, that information will be in the engagement letter between you and your tax professional. Assume you'll be billed for any time the tax firm spends on you.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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