How to Hire the Right Accountant for You

A few years ago, when my husband and I went to buy a house, we were required to have an income audit. Since I am the primary breadwinner and, at the time, my home business was only a couple of years old, the lender wanted to make sure that our income would be sufficient for the mortgage payments.

We were told an income audit was the ticket to qualifying for a mortgage with the best possible interest rate, so we began looking for an accountant to perform the audit. We enjoyed working with the accountant so much that we have continued to use him to help us prepare our taxes and work with us on other financial issues, especially those relating to the home business. Here are some ideas to help you hire the right accountant for you:

1. Ask Around

The first thing we did was to ask for referrals. We asked other people in town which accountants they used, and got some ideas of who might be a good fit for us. Then we called those accountants to have a brief chat.

2. Forming an Impression over the Phone

When you call to set up an appointment, pay attention to how the conversation goes. I actually had to leave a message at nearly all the CPA offices I called. Only three of them called back, so that narrowed things considerably. Two called back quickly; the third didn’t call back until after I’d made a decision.

I paid attention to the questions asked over the phone. One CPA just said that he’d do the income audit, while the other asked questions about my business, and told me what he needed from me beforehand to speed up the process. You can probably guess which man is still my accountant.

Later, as you move further in the process, determine how comfortable you are with the accountant in person. If you are uncomfortable, or if it doesn’t feel like it’s a good fit, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere for a CPA.

3. Check Credentials and References

Most states have boards, departments or offices that handle professional licensing, or that might even be specifically involved with CPA licensing. Check with the appropriate office to ensure that your accountant is up-to-date in his or her licenses, and that he or she has received the proper training.

You might also want to check references. You are making a hire; it’s a good idea to find out what others are saying. We didn’t check references for our CPA, though, since he had come highly recommended from some we trusted. But we did double check the credentials.

4. Choose Someone Who Fits Your Needs

Our CPA prepares a large number of tax returns for small businesses, as well as for individuals. He is experienced in preparing returns for home business owners. So, he takes care of the return for the LLC, and our individual return, each year. He is also well-versed in the issues that affect home business owners, and suggests tax strategies and accounting strategies that work for us.

I don’t think someone who mainly prepares individual tax returns, or someone who concentrated mostly on the returns for some of the bigger businesses in town, would be as “tuned in” to my needs as a home business owner. Look for someone who has experience working with your type of business.

Bottom Line

Your accountant has access to very sensitive information about you. You need to develop a bond with him or her, and you need to be able to trust your CPA. Choose carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and check credentials. And look for someone who asks about your business and is willing to evaluate your individual situation and make strategy suggestions that fit you.

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