Tax season always seems like it’s right around the corner, and it can be tough to find a good CPA. You want someone knowledgeable and experienced, but you also need to feel comfortable with them and trust they have the skills needed for your unique tax situation.
Here, we share tips on finding a good CPA near you, followed by the questions you need to ask to ensure they are the right person for you.
Ask Friends and Family
One of the best ways to find a good local CPA is by asking your friends and family in the area. Word of mouth is a great way to get recommendations because you’re usually hearing it from someone you know and trust.
If someone you know has had a good experience with their CPA, they’ll be more than happy to give you their contact information. That way, you know you’ll be in good hands.
Bonus points if they’re in a similar tax situation as you, e.g., a small business owner, an independent contractor, etc.
Use the Internet
Another great way to find a good CPA is by searching online. A simple local search will reveal a list of CPAs in your area, and you can even read reviews from past clients to get a feel for their experience working with the CPA.
When getting ready to do some internet sleuthing, consider the kind of CPA you’re looking for and add those to the search terms. For example, instead of searching for “CPA near me,” you could try something like “crypto CPA,” “cannabis CPA,” or “small business CPA.” Specificity will help narrow your search to those with expertise in your industry.
Check for Credentials
When you’ve narrowed your list of potential CPAs, check that they’re licensed and in good standing. One of the first things to check for is a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which all individuals must have to file taxes on behalf of paying clients. You can check for credentialed tax preparers in the IRS directory. But PTINs are the minimum requirement and credential you should use to vet.
You should also look for additional qualifications, like a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a licensed attorney, an Enrolled Agent, or someone who has completed that year’s round of the IRS Annual Filing Season program.
Other credentials that can add value to a CPA include being an Accredited Business Accountant/Advisor or an Accredited Tax Preparer. To earn these credentials, individuals must pass specific exams and maintain ongoing education.
Additionally, look into your local state board of accountancy and CPA societies to find a filtered list of professionals in your local area. One example would be the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), which maintains a directory where you can search for EAs to work with by location.
Online reviews will help you get an idea of what it’s like working with the CPA and if they’re someone you’d feel comfortable entrusting to prepare your taxes.
When reading reviews, look for things like:
- How responsive they are
- How easy they are to work with
- If they’re able to answer your questions
- The quality of their work
- If they’re able to meet deadlines
However, you should also take reviews with a grain of salt. If a CPA has an excellent rating with mostly positive reviews but a few nasty negative ones, it might be disgruntled customers, not the CPA.
Conversely, a company with only a few five-star reviews that seem too good to be true could be pointing to fake reviews or reviews made by team members, family members, or the accountants themselves.
You get what you pay for with a CPA. A qualified, experienced CPA is going to charge more than someone who’s just starting or doesn’t have the proper credentials.
While you don’t want to break the bank, it’s important to remember that your taxes are essential to your life and financial well-being, so it’s worth investing in a qualified professional who can help you get the best results. Paying for a higher-skilled CPA can also pay off through your return if they can help optimize your tax situation to keep more money in your pocket.
When looking at fees, be sure to compare apples to apples. Some CPAs might charge by the hour, while others might charge a flat rate for their services. Others might still charge a percentage of your tax return. If their fees are based on the return they can get you, however, this can be a red flag.
Get an estimate in writing before you agree to work with anyone so that you know what to expect and can compare fees when looking at different CPAs.
And remember, the cheapest CPA isn’t necessarily the best CPA for you. When it comes to taxes, you want to be sure you’re getting quality services from a qualified individual.
Set Up a Consultation or Interview
Once you’ve looked into someone’s credentials and read reviews from past clients, the next step is to set up a consultation or interview with them. This conversation will allow you to ask them questions about their experience, what to expect when working with them, and get a feel for their personality.
While many CPAs offer free phone calls to start, try to set up an in-person meeting if possible. Meeting with someone face to face lets you get a better read on whether they’d be a good fit for you. If any CPA gives you a hard time about meeting in person, you don’t need to work with them.
Once you’ve scheduled your meeting, create a list of questions to ask the CPA to evaluate whether they are the right person to prepare your taxes.
What to Ask a CPA Before Working With Them
After compiling a list of potential CPAs to work with, it’s time to start doing your due diligence. This process involves looking into their credentials, experience, and reviews from past clients. It also means setting up a consultation or interview to ask about their business and get a feel for their personality.
When meeting with a potential CPA, be sure to ask them the following questions:
How Long Have You Been Doing This Work?
You want to work with someone who has extensive experience preparing taxes. While there’s no set number of years you should look for, aim to find someone with at least three to five years of experience, so you know this won’t be their first tax season.
Keep in mind that tax laws are constantly changing, so even someone with years of experience needs to stay up-to-date on the latest changes. Be sure to ask them how they keep their knowledge current and whether they have any specialties or areas of focus when it comes to taxes. Continuing education is crucial for skilled CPAs.
What Are Your Specialties?
As we mentioned, you want to work with a CPA with experience in the type of taxes you need help filing. For example, if you’re self-employed, you’ll want to find someone specializing in small business taxes.
On the other hand, if you have a complex financial situation with multiple income streams, you might want to look for a CPA specializing in tax planning. This way, they can help you structure your finances to minimize your tax liability.
Regardless of your situation, ask about the CPA’s specialties and focus areas to ensure they’re a good fit for you. And don’t worry if they’re not—it’s better to know now and find your perfect fit elsewhere.
How Do You Bill?
Another vital question for a potential CPA is how they bill for their services. Many CPAs charge by the hour, while others charge a flat rate for specific services. Some might even bill based on a percentage of your tax return.
The way they bill can give you insight into their experience level and whether they’re confident in their abilities. For example, if they charge by the hour, it might mean they’re not as confident in their abilities to estimate how long a project will take.
On the other hand, charging a flat rate means they’re more confident in their services and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. No matter how they bill, be sure you’re comfortable with their rates before moving forward.
Are You Available for Help Outside of Tax Season?
Another critical question to ask a potential CPA is whether they’re available for help outside the tax season. While many CPAs only work during tax season, some are available year-round to help with financial planning and other services.
Most tax filers need help outside tax season, especially if they are self-employed or managing a complex financial situation. If they’re not available year-round, ask about their availability during the months leading up to tax season so you can get your finances in order before it’s crunch time.
Having someone you can call throughout the year can add tremendous value, especially in some instances, like for self-employed people who are required to pay estimated taxes. A person who can help every quarter can keep you on track, so you’re not left with a year’s worth of financial mess when tax season rolls around.
Will You Prepare My Return?
When meeting with a potential CPA, be sure to ask whether they’ll be the ones preparing your tax return. Sometimes, the CPA you meet with will only review your return and make suggestions for changes. Other times, if they work at a larger firm, other people on the team may prepare the actual return.
If you’re looking for someone to prepare your return, be sure to ask whether they’re the ones who will be doing it. This way, you can get to know them and their qualifications before entrusting them with your taxes. You don’t want an office assistant handling something as important as your federal and state taxes.
Can You Represent Me in Case of an Audit?
Lastly, be sure to ask whether the CPA can act as a business representative in case of an audit. You want to be sure you have someone on your side who knows what they’re doing and can help you navigate the audit process.
No one wants to think about being audited, but it’s essential to be prepared just in case. Ask your potential CPA about their experience with audits and whether they’re familiar with the audit process for your specific type of tax return.
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Give us a call today to set up a consultation or interview. We’ll be happy to answer any of your questions. Get in touch with MI Tax CPA.