How to Hire the Best CPA for Your Situation

Certified Public Accountants do so much more than yearly tax returns. Their services include financial analysis and performance, estate and tax planning, retirement, long range planning, managing personal investments, and providing general financial advice. Hiring a CPA to help you manage your finances and make sound decisions is an excellent idea, especially for those who are starting a business or need help with bookkeeping or complicated tax returns.

Step 1: Define your reasons and goals for hiring a CPA

Be clear about your exact reasons for needing an accountant. Is it only for tax returns, or do you need someone to analyze your business’ financial situation and advise you on long range planning? It’s important to know exactly what you need before hiring a CPA so you know if you will be looking for someone who can handle multiple issues or who specializes in just one area. With clear reasons and goals, your search for the right CPA will be much easier from the start.

Step 2: Begin your search

Word of mouth is one good way to find the right CPA for your needs. Get references from insurance agents, bankers, or other professionals in practice (as long as there is no conflict of interest). Referrals are a satisfactory place to start, but you also need to make sure that any potential CPAs work with clients like you, ones with similar needs and goals. As your list of prospective CPAs narrows, find out how the accountants charge their clients and whether or not they will provide estimates for their services. Also, you want to hire someone with an excellent record of customer service, who is available when you need him or her, and who can offer you sound financial advice.

Once you have your short-list, you still need to do more research. Verify credentials, check references, and then move on to scheduling face-to-face meetings with your top candidates. Most experts agree that a personal one-on-one interview is essential when hiring a CPA. During the interview, consider the following questions to ask:

  1. How many years have they been in business, and how long have they worked for their firm, if appropriate?
  2. What is the average response time for him/her and their company?
  3. What computerized accounting systems do they use, and are they familiar with other accounting systems?
  4. How often are their clients audited?
  5. Are they currently representing any other well-known businesses?
  6. What references and recommendations are they able to provide to help with your decision?
  7. Do they engage in regular continuing education?

Discuss special needs

If you anticipate any unusual accounting issues in your business, it’s worth finding an accountant with specialized training or experience. For example, an outside audit might necessitate a CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner), and a business appraisal may call for an Accredited Business Valuation Specialist or a Certified Valuation Analyst. If you would like to increase your investment portfolio, find out how much time a firm devotes to this issue. Make sure your specific interest is not just a side job for the firm, and that they employ accountants who are also CFPs (Certified Financial Planners) able to provide sound advice and guidance on wealth management.

You’re hired!

Now that your research and interviewing is complete, you are ready to hire the best CPA for your situation; it’s time to make an offer. Hiring a CPA requires time, energy and effort, but in the end your work will be well worth it. And remember, if for some reason it doesn’t work, you now have the skills and experience to start over and try again. While there is no absolute guarantee that these topics on how to hire a CPA will work for everyone all the time, they give you a solid starting place for your search.

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