Whether reacting to an IRS letter or being proactive in seeking tax planning help, it’s crucial that you find a tax CPA that has the right qualities. Beyond being tax experts, a good tax accountant can also provide IRS and DOR representation, personal financial planning, business valuation, litigation services, and tax assistance and planning.
If this is your first time using a tax CPA, take a moment to prepare for your visit because there are s
ome things you should be looking for. When you arrive, look around the office. Is it clean and tidy? Well-decorated? Are you greeted upon walking in? Do the staff that you meet seem welcoming? These details may seem minor, but because attention to detail is important in tax matters, a deficiency in these details may be a sign that such attention may be lacking when they work on your case as well.
And when you sit down to speak with the tax CPA, consider asking these questions before you decide to hire them:
- How long have you been providing accounting services?
- In what area(s) of these services do you specialize?
- What continuing education courses have you taken to make sure you are up to date on the latest issue affecting these services?
- Do you have any other advanced degrees and credentials?
- How often do you perform these services?
- How are you compensated for your services?
- What type of services do you think I need based on my concerns and goals?
- Can you provide the names of clients or colleagues I may contact?
- On average, how long have your clients utilized your services?
- How do you intend to help me implement my financial plan?
In addition, there are a few key questions that can help you select the right CPA for your needs.
#1: How much of their practice is devoted to solving tax problems?
If you’re seeking out an accountant specifically to help resolve a tax issue, the answer to this question is a sure way to separate the dedicated tax controversy practices from the general ones. The dedicated tax controversy practice will devote a substantial part, if not all, of their practice to handling tax controversy and tax debt relief cases. This is who you want to handle your tax case.
#2: Who will do the work on your case?
This is an important question to ask, especially if you are dealing with larger firms or tax debt relief companies. In most of these situations, the person you meet with for the initial consultation will not be the person who ultimately handles your case on a day-to-day basis. Your case will be delegated to someone else in the firm, usually of lower credential and experience than the person you met with. Make sure if your case is delegated to someone else in the firm, that he or she is well-credentialed and experienced. You don’t want to end up paying for a high-level tax professional but have a junior member working on your case. This is less likely to happen at smaller firms or with solo tax professionals. With these, the person you meet with is very likely to be the person who is going to handle your case.
#3 How do they bill for their services?
The rates of CPAs vary widely. The services you need, the complexity of your financial situation, the experience of the CPA, and the area of the country you live in will all impact the CPA’s fees. Because you may be potentially looking at several thousand dollars’ worth of fees, don’t be afraid to ask about fees and make sure you understand how those fees will be charged. Here are some more direct questions to ask:
- Do they bill on a flat fee basis? If yes, what is included in the flat fee? What is not?
- Do they bill on an hourly basis? If yes, what is their hourly rate?
- Do they require an initial retainer up front? If yes, is any part of it non-refundable?
- Do they charge for incidental costs like copying and postage?
- Do they charge for administrative support costs? If yes, how are the costs calculated?
You may also be able to save yourself unnecessary fees by keeping good records and not using professional time for routine work.
#4 How often will they contact you? How will they keep you informed about your case?
This is one of the most important questions. Some accountants are notorious for poor communication with clients. You want someone who will be proactively contacting you instead of providing feedback only when you ask for it. You want to look for a professional that has a clear policy for how often they will communicate with you regarding your case. At a minimum, look for someone who provides monthly updates and returns your phone calls or emails within 24 hours.
#5 Why do they work in this area?
Although there is no right answer to this question, the answer provides insight into the type of accountant you are hiring and their philosophy about tax controversy work. Many will be caught off guard by this question. Good tax accountants will say that they enjoy the opportunity to help provide people with solutions to their tax situations. They should care about solving the stress and emotional pain of real people. Tax controversies can have a tremendous negative effect on people’s marriages, home life, and well-being. Anyone that overlooks this personal connection and only does it for the money will likely not care about your case.
Finding a good tax accountant doesn’t have to be difficult. Asking the above questions can help give you an idea if the person you’re talking to runs an honest business and if they’re the right accountant for your needs.
Be clear and candid about what you expect from the CPA’s services and if you have specific deadlines, make sure the CPA can meet them. Lastly, remember that to get the most value from a CPA, you should be prepared to enter into a relationship that will grow over time and adjust to your changing financial needs.