15 Critical Questions to Ask When Hiring an Accountant

Question #1: How quickly do you respond to phone inquiries?
It is not uncommon for customers to be unhappy with the amount it takes for their calls to be returned by their CPA’s. Often answering and returning calls is not at the top of their priorities list however, by asking this question in the beginning it allows you to understand what time frame to expect and lets your CPA know that you would require your phone enquiries to be attended to promptly. Phone messages should be replied within the day they are left – or no later than the following day.

Question #2: What are your hours of operation?
What are the CPA’s hours of operation? Make sure that you can call him/her at hours that are convenient for you. Check if it is OK to call in the evening or weekend in case of emergency.

Question #3: Is timely service delivered?
Accounting information can get out of date quickly. Except for annual information, most accounting information should be no more than 30 days old. You should be able to access your up-to-date information and your accountant quickly and easily. A good accounting firm makes it a habit to get back to clients as quickly as possible.

Question #4: What are the services offered beyond reporting and bookkeeping?
It’s an accountant’s duty as an advisor to make sure the information they receive makes sense. If it doesn’t, they need to ask questions and gain clarity.

Question #5: How can the accountant help you make more money?
This is a great question to ask a CPA as the answer will help you find out if candidates are interested in your business. Did they review the financial information you provided prior to the interview? Did they make sure you understood the accounting concepts, instead of tossing off a bunch of jargon?
A proficient CPA’s goal is to save you more in taxes — it is also in his best interest that you and your business succeed.

Question #6: Do you believe I’m paying too much, too little, or just the right amount of tax?
Beyond simply preparing tax forms, an accountant should be involved in business planning throughout the year. Typically, a quarterly review should be scheduled to ensure books and records are in order. Because most business owners pay too much in taxes, a proficient CPA will analyze the tax situation from the form of entity to all legal means to plan and minimize all taxes paid.

Question #7: Who are your other clients, what is your niche or specialties?
Imagine this scenario: You hire an accountant based on the assumption he understands the basics of your business. Then, you find out he’s never had a client like you before. Instead, he’s only prepared tax forms for wealthy individuals who don’t own businesses.
Avoid this disaster by asking about the accountant’s clients. If they are businesses similar to yours, that’s a good sign. In asking about clients, you will also want to understand the CPA’s work schedule and whether he has the time and resources to support your needs.

Question #8: What kind of creative business advice will you offer me?
Advising clients on what they can do to grow and set goals, as well as discussing issues, are all part of a proficient CPA’s services. Together, this allows you to discover what works for your business so funds are used wisely.

Question #9: Are you available outside of the tax season?
Some tax preparers are seasonal. They are available only the first four months of the year, or their offices are closed for a few months each year. If you expect year-round access, you need to make sure the tax professional is available.

Question #10: Are you a corporation of CPAs or an individual CPA that has their own business?
If you opt for the corporation, find out if you’ll be dealing with one particular person, or will it be whoever answers the phone when you call. It’s best to have one or two people to build a relationship with.

Question #11: Do you conduct your own business and personal affairs in a reasonably efficient and sensible way?
Ask questions about the CPA’s approach to getting and serving clients, the role of staff, the use of technology – including computers, communications equipment and the Internet — as well as ways of keeping current, research methods, management of files and records, etc.

Question #12: How are your fees calculated? Will you be charging me for every phone discussion?
To avoid friction later, it is essential to discuss the CPA’s fee structure. Tax professionals may bill by the hour, form, overall return or some combination. After reviewing your previous returns and interviewing you, a tax professional should be able to give you a good-faith estimate of costs. If the CPA uses a time-based system, discuss the hourly rate of the accountant and staff, overhead expense reimbursement (what is the cost of a fax?) and whether certain time is not billed.
Find out now whether a simple two-minute phone call or a one-page fax means an hour of billable time. If that’s the case, run for the door.

Question #13: What can I do to help you with your work and keep your fees to a minimum?
A great deal of your accountant’s time can be saved by preparing information beforehand. Find out if your CPA is willing to work with you to offload this work to your firm.

Question #14: How well have you integrated computers and the Internet into your practice, and has it enabled you to do more for the clients at less cost?
Integrating your computer files with your CPA’s files can save time and money and increase accuracy. Doing so over the Internet makes it even simpler. Find out how your CPA uses the Internet. Does he have his own website? If so, check it out and ask questions about the resources available on it. Find out how you can interact with him and his computer systems to make work flow more efficient, while enabling both of you to stay in touch.

Question #15: Do you consider yourself tech-savvy?
Small business accounting software has made powerful accounting tools available to everyone. But these accounting packages (most notably QuickBooks) are only as useful as the person who installs and runs the application. For this reason, a proficient CPA will help you install and set up a set of books, while also requesting them for review.
Contact us today for your free, no-obligation consultation. Any information discussed will always remain confidential.

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