A lot of people believe that only business owners and freelancers need accountants. The truth is that anybody who has more than one source of income or who has taxes that are more complicated than a simple 1040 form allows would likely be better served having their taxes done by a professional.
Here's the good news: working with an accountant is a relatively easy process! Here is the not great news: like with most other professional services, it can take some time to find the right accountant for your needs. Here are five tips to help make that process easier.
#1. Go Local or Go Home
Yes, there are plenty of web-based accounting firms out there, but it is always better to work with someone who operates locally. A locally based accountant will be more familiar with your city, county and state tax codes as well as federal laws than someone operating globally. Beyond that, you want to be able to actually and literally sit down with an accountant before you hire them. After all, this is a person you're going to be trusting with your financial health! Do you really want to hire someone you've never even met? Of course not! Always hire someone with whom you can have face to face conversations.
It is also important to work with a CPA who prefers to meet in person. For example, Sonu Shukla, an Orlando CPA, says that he prefers the "one on one environment" because it makes it easier for "he and the client [to] bounce ideas off of each other until every detail is worked out." Working together in person ensures that both you and your accountant understand all of the details of your finances.
#2. Meet With Him/Her in Person
We've touched on this already, but here's the scoop: you always want to have a face to face meeting with a potential accountant before you hire them to manage your money. Many accountants will offer free initial consultations. Take advantage of this! Go in, sit down, and try to get a feel for the person across the table. Do you automatically trust them? Does something feel off? Do your personalities mesh or clash? You want to feel comfortable around the person in charge of your financial health and meeting face to face is the best way to do figure out whether or not the two of you are compatible.
Pro Tip: Many accountants operate as independent contractors. Meeting in someone's house or at a coffee shop is okay, just make sure you do a thorough background check before you sign any contracts. Speaking of whichâ€¦
#3 The All Important Background Check
Make sure that your potential CPA is, in fact, a CPA and has completed all of the proper coursework and licensing programs. Make note of his or her education and follow up with the school. Run his or her name through the Better Business Bureau and do a business records check with your local city and county clerk. Check them out with your Secretary of State's office. Be as thorough as possible. Actually meet with any referrals or references your potential accountant gives to you.
#4 Reference Checks
Always ask for references. Do not limit yourself to the references given to you by the potential accountant. Why? For the same reason you do not limit yourself to reading only the testimonials listed on a professional's website: you're only going to be sent to clients who are sure to give glowing recommendations and reviews. Look for some independent reviews both online and within your local social and professional circles. Find out what others know about the accountants in your area. Find out who they've worked with, who they've liked and who they'll never hire again. It's also good to make sure that the references you meet with have actually worked with the accountant and are not just friends and colleagues doing favors (which is common with CPAs who are just starting out).
#5 Hire What You Want
It is important to choose a CPA who will do what you want them to do. For example, if you're a solid record keeper and financial manager, you might only need someone to take care of your annual taxes and/or quarterly estimated tax payments. That's fine! Hire someone who specializes in tax work instead of someone who offers more comprehensive services. If you're not good with records or other financial details, you'll want to hire a CPA who is more of a financial manager and who will help you manage your daily money matters as well as the larger projects like taxes, etc.
Whatever you do, don't try to do all of your financial work yourself. Hiring an accountant will make your life and your business run a lot smoother.