This guest post is contributed by Raine Parker.
It's that time of year again, when millions of workers nationwide grit their teeth and prepare to file income taxes. As a result, a lot of people are considering hiring an accountant to handle the financial work for them. Whether you're an individual seeking assistance, a small-business owner looking for advice, or you're just in the market for a long-term accountant beyond the tax season, here are some things to remember as you search.
How Involved is Your Tax Situation?
First, what exactly are you looking for? If you're a “regular” individual or even someone married and filing jointly, you might just need an accountant for tax preparation and a few questions. However, if you're the proprietor of a business, an accountant can help you do so much more than just file a return. They can assist you from the ground up, offering help and planning for the future, quarterly financial reviews, and tips to help your business grow without overpaying taxes. Determine what your needs are, and then find an accountant who can meet them.
How Qualified is the Accountant?
Next, what kind of education has your accountant (or the members of the accounting firm) received? Many financial procedures can be overseen by a general accountant, but a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) has undergone further training and is needed for more serious things like an audit. You can still get good work and financial advice from someone who isn't a CPA, but with a CPA you can be sure that the accountant has achieved a minimum level of testing and education.
Editor's note: Enrolled Agents (EAs) are tax professionals who have passed a rigorous test and background check administered by the IRS. Enrolled agents often specialize and are best for complex tax situations.
How is the Accountant's Reputation?
You'll also need to get a sense of the accountant's or firm's reputation. How long have they been doing business? Is this a place you wandered into from the street, or one that's been recommended to you by a trusted friend or colleague? How many other clients do they handle, and how big are those clients? It's imperative that you hire an accountant with a reputation for honest work, a quick response time, and the ability to deal with a variety of financial needs, and the best way to learn if your accountant is up to the task is to see what others think of them. It's the only way to get an unbiased opinion.
Not Just a Need to Know Basis
Finally, get a feel for the accountant by talking to them at length about your life and finances. So much of a good business relationship is built just on the way two people's personalities get along, and if you find that you aren't meshing well with your accountant even though they're a qualified CPA with skill to boot, it's probably a good idea to keep looking. Remember, this is someone you'll be trusting with your finances and looking to for advice, so it's important that you click with them.
The best thing you can do is ask a ton of questions until you start to get a feel for what a specific accountant or firm can provide. The more you ask, the better you'll be able to hire an accountant that's perfect for you. That's enough to make anyone feel better about taxes.
Background Check on Your Accountant or CPA
After your interview, you'll want to perform a quick background check. Contact your state's board of accountacy to check the status of a CPA's license, or to find out if any disciplinary action taken against the CPA. For enrolled agents, you can ask the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility if an EA has been censured, disbarred or subjected to other disciplinary action.
This guest post is contributed by Raine Parker, who writes on the topics of online accounting degree.