How to Choose a CPA

Story by Jessica Tomes

Though some choose to prepare their own taxes, many would never dream of undertaking such a task. Instead, these folks decide to hire a certified public accountant (CPA). Though the IRS doesn’t require businesses or individuals to hire a CPA or other tax preparer, many are so busy with the daily ins and out of running a business or living their lives that they simply don’t have the necessary time to sit down and analyze their own financial data. If this sounds like you, it’s probably time to look into calling a professional.

Did you know that hiring an accountant or a CPA to handle your taxes could lead to financial growth opportunities you may have never even imagined?

It’s true, but you’ve got to choose wisely. You’ll want to prepare a list of questions that you can bring to a financial advisor. A little food for thought: would you like help improving your cash flow? Do you need guidance in applying for a loan? Is financial planning for your business or estate a concern? Are you considering any sort of upcoming financial changes that might have a big impact, and if so, have you found someone who is experienced with those issues?

Identifying the answers to these questions is important, because nowadays many accounting firms provide advice. Once you’ve identified your priorities (in addition to tax preparation), you’ll want to look for a firm that can provide these services, assuming they are important to you.

Do a little digging on the prospective firm’s websites. Ask family and friends for recommendations of accountants who prepare taxes, and who offer any of the other services you’re interested in procuring. The American Institute of CPAs and the National Society of Accountants are another great resource, and link to directories and state accounting associations. You should be aware that some firms will already be too busy with their current clients, and may tell you no. You should be prepared to contact several firms.

Schedule meetings with the prospective accountants. Prepare a list of questions for these meetings. Find out what degrees, professional certifications, or training they have. (Not all accountants are CPAs.) Ask about experience working with businesses or individuals in your line of work. Some accountants may be able to provide industry comparisons to your financials or may have useful professional contacts in your field. Find out who will be your main point of contact — accounting firms vary widely in size and staff. You’ll probably want to know upfront whether you’ll be working with a partner or a junior staffer. Another very important question to ask: how are fees structured? Hourly? By project? Or does the firm require a retainer for advisory services? Some firms provide different levels of services based on monthly fees. This is information you will want to have in hand when making a decision.

At the end of the day, you want to make the best, most informed decision for your specific needs — and this won’t look the same for everyone.