Tax day is almost here! If you felt stumped by your taxes this year, maybe it’s time to consider hiring an accountant, such as CliftonLarsonAllen, for next year. If you’ve never hired an accountant before, or if your past experiences with accountants were not the best, you may feel unsure of yourself in picking a new one. In fact, making sure your accountant is qualified, licensed, and skilled can be very tricky, so here are some directions to keep in mind when choosing.
Ask Around First
One of the best ways to find an accountant who will be a good match for you personality-wise is to ask the people you trust. As an individual, you are likely to have friends and family members with similar tax needs to yours, so they will probably be able to refer you to someone whose skills match your requirements. Similarly, if you are a business owner, your partners and peers in the industry might be able to suggest someone who would be appropriate for you. In addition, some accountants will give discounts for referrals, so you may be able to save a little money for a highly qualified accountant.
Do Your Homework
The three most important things to consider when choosing an accountant are skill set, personality, and cost (which is crucial if you are living on a budget). Finding a good match in these three areas will be the best way to get what you need out of your relationship with your accountant.
However, skill set is arguably the most important thing to consider because an unqualified accountant can end up costing you legally and financially.
There are no licensing requirements for tax preparers, but this means that many people who claim to be tax preparers will not be able to help you should you end up facing an audit or other problems. In making sure your accountant is licensed, keywords to look out for are:
- Enrolled Agent
- Accredited Tax Adviser/Preparer
- Certified Public Accountant
- Personal Financial Specialist
If you are having trouble finding a licensed accountant, check with local registration and licensing boards, including the Society of Certified Public Accountants.
Next, you will want to ask about their areas of focus. Different accountants focus on different tax services, so you will want to pick an appropriate one. If you are an individual, you will want to find an accountant who does not only focus on businesses and who will be able to address your particular needs. For example, if you own rental properties, you will want a preparer who is experienced in property ownership.
If you are a business owner, consider a company like Communitytax.com, which can help you in diverse ways like:
- Supervision of credit and debit transactions
- Records and payroll
- Quarterly and annual payroll tax returns
- Preparation of W-2s and 1099s
Interview Your Accountant
Once you have selected a few promising candidates, schedule an interview with your accountant. This will be the time to gauge their personality to find out if this is someone you can work with on a long-term basis. Questions to ask the accountant include:
- Will you defend me if I should be audited?
- Do you have time to take on new clients right now?
- How much experience do you have in the following areas that are relevant to me?
This will also be your chance to find out about pricing. If the accountant tries to charge you just for a phone or initial consultation, walk away immediately. They are probably not the kind of cooperative, accommodating accountant you’d want to work with. This might also be a good time to give your accountant more information about yourself. Be sure to mention if you have a side job such as freelancing, as tax returns for multiple jobs make a difference.
If you are able to find an accountant with whom you really mesh on all of these levels, you may be able to sustain an ongoing professional relationship for many years. Especially if you are a business owner, this is the exact consistency and reliability that you need.