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The Key to Finding a Good CPA Is the Interview.  Here Are 10 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring a Certified Public Accountant.

Find a Good CPA

In order to find a good CPA, you need to ask the right questions.  Here are some guideline questions that you should ask a CPA before allowing him access to your most intimate financial records.

1.  Ask about their experience in preparing tax returns, specifically how many tax returns they have prepared.  Be cautious if the number is in double digits.  This doesn't mean they are a bad accountant or that you should not hire them based solely on that number.  However, hundreds or more is preferable.  Would you want to be the first patient on which an ophthalmologist performed a cataract surgery?  Also, be sure to ask specifically about any unusual aspects of your tax situation.  If you have a membership site or develop a paid newsletter, be sure your accountant understands subscription accounting.

2.  Ask specifically what types of returns they can and cannot prepare.  The CPA profession has specialties and sub-specialties just like lawyers and doctors and other professionals, so you want to make sure the CPA can prepare the tax return that specifically meets your needs.  It may be an individual return, business return, or another type or subtype.  Make sure the two of you are on the same page.

3.  Ask about how they ensure the accuracy of the returns they prepare.  Every CPA should have a system of review to ensure that tax returns are prepared accurately.  Firms will will almost always have some sort of review system in place to double check for accuracy.  Individual CPAs should also have a system for checking their own work and documenting that it was checked and verified.

4.  Ask what sets them apart from other CPAs or what makes them unique.  You want to find out why they think they can serve you as well or better than their competition.  CPAs and computer programmers have similar stereotypes, so don't be too hard on them if they don't provide a splendid answer.  Spending all day with numbers and a calculator can be hard on a person.  But, this question will give a superb CPA a chance to show what they've got to offer you.

5.  Ask about their tax philosophy and the attitude they have regarding the amount of tax you should pay.  Follow that up by asking them to describe the difference between tax compliance and tax planning to you.  The last thing you want to do is hire a lackey for the IRS.  You want to hire someone who will work within the law to minimize your tax burden.  You'll often hear bureaucrats say how much the government needs your money.  They'll take every dime they can get the people to give them the authority (or allow) them to take.  You want someone as a CPA that understands that you need your money too.  Tax compliance is merely filling out forms.  You want a CPA that will help you prepare for tax filings and payments and actively look for ways to legally reduce the amount you have to pay.

6.  Ask them how they want information to be provided to them, and ask them how accessible they are during the year.  Some accountants disappear completely after the tax season.  Make sure yours is available and happy to help you during the off-season.  If you get contacted by the IRS, you need to know that they will be available to help.

7.  Ask how many times they have represented clients at an IRS audit.  You should be cautious if the answer is anything under five.  Again, that number isn't necessarily a deal breaker, just a signal to proceed with caution.  Ask them what their biggest successes and disappointments have been working with the IRS.  Ask what resources they use to research and find answers to tax questions.  Just like medical doctors, no CPA is going to know it all.  But, like doctors, they should be able to find accurate answers and know where to look for reliable information.  They can consult with other tax experts to find the answers they need as well.

8.  Ask them how they stay on top of changes in the ever-changing tax codes and regulations.  Every CPA should read regularly and participate in professional continuing education to maintain the highest level of service to his clientele.  If his state board requires specific types of continuing education, ask where and how he usually acquires it.

9.  Ask what their fee will be (approximate) for preparing and filing your returns and assisting you with tax planning.  Take a copy of your tax return from the previous year with you to help them give you a quote.

10.  Ask if you and your spouse can take the CPA and his spouse out to dinner if you decide to hire him or her.  Business relationships don't have to be cold.  Do something special for the members of your business team once or twice a year to let them know they are important to you.



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