How to Find an Accountant

I am not a financial expert. I’m just an average guy who wants to improve his personal finances while helping others to improve theirs. I feel comfortable giving general advice, but sometimes people write with specific questions that can only be answered by a qualified financial professional. Some questions are best answered by a lawyer, an accountant, or a financial planner.

What do I mean by that? How does one find professional help?

To find an answer, I polled three CPAs: my own accountant, my wife’s aunt Jenefer, and fellow blogger Brian Brown. The all said the same thing: The best way to find an accountant is by referrals. Don’t pick someone blindly from a search engine or via the phonebook. Ask your family and friends for recommendations.

Jenefer writes:

Referrals are good. I seldom accept a client that is not a referral. Most clients received from advertising are “shopping”. They can’t often convince me that they will be a good risk, and I always ask for a retainer from a non-referred client. This seems expensive to them.

Brian Brown offers more advice about selecting an accountant. He was gracious enough to share the following:

Contrary to popular belief, accountancy expands far beyond taxes.  As an individual or business owner, you should engage the services of a CPA based upon your specific needs as matched with the expertise of the CPA.  With the proper match, a CPA can serve as a valuable resource. The following items can serve as a starting point in the process of engaging a CPA to assist with your individual or business matters.

  • What are your needs? You should seek a CPA who meets your needs.  Are you looking for tax compliance and planning?  Looking for an audit, review, or compilation?  Maybe a business valuation?  Perhaps forensic accounting services? You wouldn’t want a veterinarian performing eye surgery on you, right?
  • Ask for referrals. Once you know what you need, seek out referrals from others that you trust. Ask friends, business associates, and other professionals.  However, proceed with caution.  Just because someone knows of a quality CPA, it does not mean that the he is the proper fit for you.
  • Ask questions.  When you find a few CPAs that appear to match your needs, start asking questions. Make a list of the matters that are important to you. Such questions can address education, experience, specialties, and business philosophy.  If you’re a business owner, seek out examples from the CPA as to how she has assisted others who have similar circumstances as you. The CPA should provide such examples in general terms.  She shouldn’t reveal specific client transactions or other confidential data.
  • Assess communication and comfort. Now that you feel confident that the CPA is appropriate for your specific circumstances, assess how well he communicates and evaluate your comfort level with him.  How does he communicate?  Is it high-level technical talk, or does he lay things out in an organized understandable format?  Does he prefer email, phone, or in-person meetings? One way to gauge his communication skills is by the manner in which he responds to your questions.  Is he irritated and short? Or is he professional and enthusiastic about having you as a potential client? If irritable now, can you imagine calling him during a crunch period to set up a meeting or to seek a special request?
  • Don’t be concerned with location. Location may be important for selecting a house; however, location should not serve as a criterion for selecting a CPA. The office of a CPA is a not a barber shop to come chat and solve the world’s problems.  By focusing only on location, you are foregoing the consideration of other selection criteria such as those mentioned above.

A CPA can serve as a valuable resource in the growth and efficient use of your financial resources.  Seek one who is open and honest about both their qualifications and limitations. Feel confident that you are engaging a qualified professional for your specific circumstances that seeks your best interests.

This advice also applies to finding a lawyer. Don’t just dig through the yellow pages; ask for recommendations from people you trust. I got lucky. I didn’t need to search for competent help: I was friends with both my accountant and my lawyer before I ever needed their services. (I play poker with my accountant. My lawyer and I were best friends in grade school.) Flexo at Consumerism Commentary recently posted some advice on how to find a financial advisor online.

You can get a lot of great advice on building sound financial habits from sites like Get Rich Slowly. But for some questions, you simply must seek professional help.

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