Whether they’re handling business or personal finances, a good Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can be worth their weight in gold. Most entrepreneurs don’t start their journey with an in-depth knowledge of how to manage and organize business finances, and almost all of us would welcome expert assistance with our taxes.
A good CPA can put you and your business on the path to financial success and even uncover areas where you can improve your numbers. Below, 16 members of Forbes Finance Council shared their tips for finding one that’s right for you.
1. Get A Clear Picture Of Your Current Finances
The first step toward finding a good CPA is knowing what your personal needs are. Before selecting a CPA, you should gather your accounts, look over your financing and figure out what kind of financial assistance you need. Consider your business, the number of employees and your budget. You need to select a CPA who can handle your accounts and not overcharge. - Greg Herlean, Horizon Trust
2. Understand Your Specific Tax And Accounting Needs
It depends on what type of tax or accounting advice is needed. An enrolled agent who is a tax preparer or a bookkeeper might be a more qualified solution than a CPA if they have the experience and the specialty focus needed. The CPA is arguably the highest-regarded professional license out there, and people often assume a CPA is a jack-of-all-trades because of the reputation around the license. - David Miller, PeachCap Inc.
3. Ask About Industry Experience
Ask if the CPA has experience doing returns for your type of business and industry. No one wants to be the first tax return for your type of business filed by a CPA. When it comes to a CPA’s experience, it’s worth the time to look for the right fit. When choosing a CPA, ask, “How many returns have you filed for my type of business and in my industry?” - David Gass, Anderson Business Advisors, LLC
4. Make Sure They’re Willing To Meet Before The End Of The Year
Whether you’re looking for a CPA for business or personal tax help, you want to look for a tax planner, not a tax preparer. Preparers meet with you after the year is over, and at that point, it’s very difficult to make any improvement in your tax situation. You want a proactive tax planner who meets with you before the end of the year to make suggestions for improving your tax situation. - Jeffrey Burg, Dobrusin Burg
5. Don’t Penny-Pinch
If you have big, hairy tax issues, don’t penny-pinch on CPA fees. A CPA with the right expertise should be able to make up their fees in spades by helping you lower taxes or avoid penalties and audits. - Sandi Bragar, Aspiriant
6. Shop Local
I recommend shopping local. There is value in being able to sit with your CPA in person to go over your personal needs and to make sure your personal initiatives are in line with your business goals. While I appreciate the convenience of remote meetings and desktop sharing, I find great comfort in meeting face-to-face. - Anthony Holder, C&H Financial Services, Inc.
7. Ask Your Community
A CPA should be someone you feel comfortable with and trust. One of the best ways to find someone you can have faith in right out of the gate is through referrals. Talk with people in your community to find a CPA that they have worked with and value, as this is more valuable than a good online review or Yelp rating. - Jared Weitz, United Capital Source Inc.
8. Look Beyond Their Résumé
I once hired a CPA who used to be the top accountant for our governor’s office. He made an error on my income taxes that was $20,000 in favor of the IRS. Thankfully, the IRS notified me of his mistake. Go with a CPA that you have an endorsement from a colleague on. I always say that, as a business owner, the top two resources you can spend your money on are a good attorney and a good CPA. - Sheryl J. Moore, Wink, Inc.
9. Seek A True Partner
A proficient CPA could be your best business partner. Ask if the CPA can advise you on how to grow your business and set goals, and consider their work schedule and communication preferences. You should also consider their personalities and make sure you are the client they actually want to work with. - Lijie Zhu, Dragon Gate Investment Partners
10. Find A Specialist In Your Niche
Finding a good CPA is hard enough, but you really need to find a specialist CPA for the area of work you’re in. For example, a real estate CPA is going to know a lot about certain legal benefits that a generic regular CPA may not be up to speed with. Having a specialist who deals with a specific niche is the most efficient way to find a good CPA. - Khurram Chohan, Together CFO
11. Understand How They’ll Protect Your Privacy
While this character trait can be difficult to gauge, you should always be mindful of your CPA’s efforts to protect your confidential financial information. If you hear your CPA discussing another client’s business and personal affairs, you can bet they will discuss your business with others. No matter how much you like your CPA, you should value your privacy first and foremost. - David Singleton, Seiler, Singleton & Associates, PA
12. Look For Someone Who Provides Catered, Holistic Solutions
Find a CPA who is backed by a team of professionals and who can support you as your financial and business growth advisor. Do they specialize in your industry or provide you with a catered, holistic approach? Do they keep their fingers on the pulse of new technology and methodologies to deliver you the best service? Find an advocate who understands your unique challenges and creates opportunities. - Greg Kniss, KROST CPAs & Consultants
13. Ask Your Peers If There’s Anyone To Steer Clear Of
The CPA certification test is one of the most difficult ones out there, so keep in mind that a fair price for a great CPA might be steep. Ask your peers for recommendations for private CPAs or firms, depending on your needs. Your finances are too important to trust to just anyone, after all. You should also ask your peers if there’s anyone you should steer clear of. That's a great place to start. - Jeff Pitta, Medicare Plan Finder
14. Ensure Your CPA Will Be A Team Player
Choose a CPA who not only values formal education, field experience and continuing vocational training but is also a team player. They are just one position on your professional advisory team—not the team. You need to ensure any potential CPAs are committed to the team’s success and shared goals and understand that more is achieved together than separately. - Justin Goodbread, Heritage Investors
15. Ask Them To Explain Basic Accounting Concepts To You
Accounting is the language of business, but it seems so few can really speak it or translate it into English. A good CPA should be able to concisely explain basic accounting concepts in a way that you can understand. Remember, in the end, it’s your business, and any advisors should just provide advice—you need to make the decision, and education is the first step to understanding. - Vlad Rusz, Vlad Corp. USA
16. Have A Casual Chat
Having a casual chat with your potential CPA can speak volumes for a relationship that will hopefully last decades. You can tick off the low-hanging fruit with basic licensure searches and references. Also, get a sense if the firm is working towards the 21st century or if it’s a dying practice a few years away from retirement. - David Burton, Victorious SEO