Whether your company has decided to retain a new accountant, or is engaging one for the first time, it is difficult to find the right professional to meet your needs. Here’s how to find the right accountant for your business.
- Request a face to face interview: The time to interview your prospective accountant is before year-end, preferably November…before the busy Spring tax filing season. Be sure to review the accountant’s biography and Websites. Make note of certifications and professional memberships.
- Review a sample engagement contract: this is the form that a new client would sign. The purpose of the contract is to lay out the scope of services to be provided, the fees associated with those services, and the responsibilities assigned to the firm and the client.
- Verify Certifications:
- Certified Public Accountants (CPA) have met exam, educational, and experience requirements for state certification, along with continuing education. However, not all CPAs prepare tax returns. The fee structure for CPA services is generally higher than other accounting firm alternatives.
- Enrolled Agents (EA): have passed an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) required exam. EAs are qualified to represent clients with IRS audits.
- Tax Preparer: if tax return preparation is the only service required, a qualified tax preparer may be the economical choice. However, tax preparation services may not retain personnel qualified to prepare business tax returns
- Accountant/Bookkeeper: focuses on financial statement preparation and may have accounting software certification (i.e. QuickBooks ©).
- Assess office location and accessibility: Is the accountant’s office or meeting location in a professional office? Does the firm have established hours of operation?
- Scope of the practice and specific industry concentrations: for example, construction, restaurant, retail gasoline, and farming entities require accountants with in-depth experience in the related industries.
- Software: does the accountant have knowledge of your company’s accounting software, and specifically how to assist you with your questions.
- Experience working with state, local, and Federal tax agencies: “SALT” (state and local tax) accountants specialize in state, county, and municipal tax rules and forms. A general practitioner may not have the experience in these areas. Accountants who have no experience with Internal Revenue Service audits should not represent you in a field examination (an enrolled agent might be the better choice).
- Fees: it is not out of bounds to discuss fees. The actual fees will be determined by the level of services and the time required to complete the tasks. A reasonable range should be provided based on your needs and the fees charged to the Firm’s comparable clients. Note, however, that the fees are subject to change as the company’s business size and complexity increase.
- Planning: does the firm include tax planning and advisory as part of the engagement fee? It is important to set time aside before year end to enact financial and tax strategies.
- Client support: this is perhaps the most important point. If your accountant lacks personal contact, misses deadlines, completes work just before filing dates, is not returning phone calls or emails, is assigning work to support staff without follow-up, or promises actions that take far too long to complete it is a sign of inefficiency and distraction. Be sure to stress in the interview your expectations for how and when services should be delivered.
The best accountant for your business is the one that provides timely, efficient, and effective information to your company to minimize costs and maximize net worth.
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