Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation signifies that your accountant has undergone specialized training and passed rigorous education and examination requirements. Even so, not all CPAs are equal. When choosing a CPA, be sure to look beyond the acronyms and find out about his or her education, experience, expertise, and whether or not they meet your needs. To help you make this judgment call, begin by asking these five questions:
1. Have you met all the requirements to be considered a Certified Public Accountant in my state?
The first step when vetting a CPA is to determine whether or not they are a genuine CPA in your state. You can actually answer this question on your own via your state’s professional licenses website. You can find a list of CPA institutions by state at aicpa.org. Make sure your CPA is up to date with their requirements and are not suspended or inactive.
2. How many years experience have you had as a CPA?
The road to becoming a CPA is marked by years of education and training, so even a freshly minted CPA won’t be completely inexperienced. But it’s still best to choose a CPA who has considerable hands-on experience as a practicing CPA.
3. What is your financial expertise in?
There are a number of CPA specializations, including Assurance and Attestation, Corporate Financing, Corporate Governance, Estate Planning, Financial Accounting, Financial Analysis, Financial Planning, Forensic Accounting, Income Tax, Information Technology in accounting and auditing, Management Consulting, Performance Consulting, Tax Preparation and Planning, or Venture Capitalism. Make sure your CPA is well-versed in the area where you need the most help.
4. I need (state the requirements of your business) and I’m wondering if you have the necessary knowledge and experience to help me with this type of accounting?
Chances are, you know what part of your tax return is the most complicated and potentially problematic. Be up front about this issue and make sure they can address it with confidence.
5. What are your hours and availability? What kind of contingency is there if I am audited?
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that your CPA firm will be there for you when you need them. Make sure they can meet with you when you are available (i.e. do they only operate during business hours when you are also at work? Are lunch meeting feasible?). You’ll also want to be sure that they’ll be accountable (no pun intended) in the case that you are audited. Otherwise, you’ll have to reverse engineer their work in order to answer all of the IRS’ questions.
These five questions should just get you started. Choose your CPA carefully and ensure that you feel comfortable and confident in their experience and expertise.