For most of us here in the United States, the clock is ticking – April is right around the corner and the taxman is knocking at our doors. If you do not have a relationship with a good tax professional or certified public account (CPA), now is the time to begin your search. This is true for business owners, too, who need help with their small business accounting and financing issues year-round as well.
Interviewing a CPA
One of the most important – if not the most important – steps you have to take when forming a relationship (and trust me, it is a relationship) with a certified public accountant is to interview them. Just as you would a home remodeling contractor, baby sitter, or prospective employee, CPAs need to be interviewed and vetted prior to allowing them to look at your finances. Think about it – how many of your family members or friends would you let have access to, or see every detail of, your financial information?
If an accountant or financial advisor is not open to your questions, does not have any references, or will not provide credentials, move along and save yourself the hassle – and money!
Questions to Ask an Accountant
So what are some of the questions you should ask a prospective CPA or tax professional? What questions are too generic and which are too nosy? In our section below, we will give you a few basic questions to ask any accountant you are considering for financial help. Keep in mind that you not only want someone that has good credentials and knowledge, but that you can communicate effectively with as well. No matter how money-savvy a CPA may be, if they cannot relay information to you – or vice versa – it won’t make a difference in the end.
What Services Do You Offer?
When people think of a CPA, they often think of them in terms of tax advice or tax help. In reality, certified public accountants work year-round and offer many financial services, including business planning, retirement advisement, and a wide array of accounting services.
Always ask what areas a CPA covers and how many years they – or the CPA firm – has in their respective arenas.
Can I See a List of References?
Any CPA firm worth their salt will have a list of references you can call to ask about their experience with the accounting group in question. Don’t just ask for the list – use it as well! Don’t shy away from asking past (or current) clients if they were happy with the work performed, if the accountants saved them money, and if they would hire them again.
Can Your Provide a List of Organizations and Certifications
Depending upon your prospective CPA’s specialty, they should have a certification in their field. For instance, they may have a CFP (certified financial planner) or CBA (Certified Business Appraiser) certification. If they are not certified, consider looking elsewhere.
In addition to certifications, most legitimate CPAs will belong to local or national organizations as well. While this may or may not be mandatory, if an accountant belongs to one of these, it is a sign that they care about their profession, as membership includes prospecting opportunities, as well as training and other resources for CPAs.