Before hiring an accountant, you should conduct a thorough search, ask thoughtful questions of potential candidates, and screen the ones you think could be the right choice. Here are some factors to consider before choosing an accountant.
A business accountant can fill several functions. They can serve as your business’s financial guide by overseeing a large portion of your company’s financial planning and recordkeeping. They can handle your bookkeeping and help with tax planning and preparation of financial documents like tax returns. You can also use an accountant to help you avoid common accounting mistakes, such as financial inconsistencies, overpayments and cash flow shortages.
During your search for an accountant, you may also consider hiring a certified public accountant (CPA). A CPA is different from a typical accountant because a CPA can write audited financial statements, like balance sheets or income statements. Although accountants and CPAs both hold accounting degrees, CPAs are state-certified, meaning they must pass an exam to get their license and take an annual course to keep it. CPAs have unlimited representation rights before the IRS, which allows them to represent you on matters such as audits, payment-or-collection issues and appeals. [Read related article: The Difference Between an Accountant and a Bookkeeper (and Why You Need Both)]
A good accountant is hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Before you explore outside resources, use your connections to your advantage. Ask your colleagues or other business owners for referrals. Do your due diligence when investigating anyone you are seriously considering hiring.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also maintains a directory of qualified and accredited professionals who have preparer tax identification numbers, also known as PTINs. A PTIN is an identification number from the IRS that accountants and tax preparers must use to obtain clearance to file federal tax returns or claims.
You can save time and future headaches by asking your accountant the right questions before you hire them. The process of hiring the right accountant is similar to that of hiring any other employee for your business.
Set a time to speak with the accountant candidate over the phone or in person. Before going through your questions, tell them a little about yourself and your business. This will give them a feel for your company and add depth to the interview. Explain what your business does, what your industry is, the number of employees and clients you have, and your budget. Then, use the rest of the meeting to go through what’s important to you and what you want to know about them.
Here are a few examples of questions to ask accountant candidates:
As a small business owner, you want the best advice on how to manage your company’s finances. However, if your accountant has only managed multimillion-dollar businesses, you need to know this. You want to work with someone who is familiar with the challenges of the type of business you run so that you’ll get the best advice. This doesn’t mean you should rule out accountants with different backgrounds, but you should ask about their plan for you.
Communication is key in any relationship, including the one you’ll build with your prospective accountant. So, ask about what their interaction with you would look like as their client. When is the best time to reach them? Do they like speaking over the phone, emailing or meeting in person? Even if your communication preferences differ, see if you can meet in the middle.
Knowing how an accountant prefers to be paid will help you compare their rates to those of other accountants during your search. Your goal should be to understand how much everything will cost at the end of the year, based on their rates and payment method.
When you’re looking for an accountant, it’s important to do your due diligence. Even if your accountant’s actions benefit you financially, make sure they acted honestly and appropriately. You may encounter situations like this during your search. To avoid being duped, it’s important to understand the proper protocol for an accountant.
“Be wary of accountants with a lack of credentials, a history of short-term work contracts or a lack of communication,” said Logan Allec, a CPA and personal finance expert. “This could turn into serious problems down the road if you choose to hire them.”
In addition, keep these points in mind during your search:
Finding someone certified is only half the battle. It’s also important to choose an accountant with good communication skills and a personality you’re comfortable with.
Pick an experienced accountant who can break down complex information and explain it in a way you understand.
“Make sure they respond to you in a timely manner and that you understand exactly what they’re telling you,” said Jaime Thompson, a former certified public accountant at Bayside Accounting and Consulting. “Accounting jargon is considered by some to be its own language. If you don’t understand what the accountant is saying, don’t just shake your head and pretend like you do.”
If your accountant gives you a bad vibe, trust your gut and move on. You are essentially giving a stranger access to all of your personal information, and you have the right to feel comfortable with them. You want to feel secure telling them about your mistakes or asking silly questions without feeling judged.
“Obviously you should find an accountant who knows what they’re doing,” Thompson told business.com. “But it makes a world of difference when you find one who is personable.”
There are many parts of your business you can handle on your own, but knowing when to seek outside support is a valuable trait. If you are a small business owner who is just starting out, money may be tight, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking into accounting services. Here are some benefits of hiring an accountant:
“If your valuable time is being eaten up by managing your finances instead of growing your business, then you may need to consider hiring an accountant,” Allec said. “Having someone to manage your finances, whether you’re hiring a professional to file your taxes or do year-round bookkeeping, saves you from making costly mistakes that could stunt the growth of your business.”
“Think about how much time and effort you spend on trying to manage your finances yourself,” Thompson added, “not to mention the possible errors you could incur and related losses from poor financial decisions.”
An accountant can guide you toward the business structure type that best matches your company. Each business is different, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out the right legal structure for your business. Your options include limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, and sole proprietorship or traders.
Accountants can also help you decide which accounting method you should use. Usually, new companies use the cash-based accounting method to record revenue and expenses when a payment is made. However, sometimes the IRS requires you to use accrual accounting if you sell a product or have inventory. With the accrual method, you document your income and expenses when they are billed instead of when you actually receive the money.
Tax season is also a good reason to hire an accountant. Filing taxes for a business is very different from filing taxes for yourself. If you are uncomfortable filing your business taxes on your own, or if you have a complicated tax situation, hire an accountant to file for you or to offer advice.
Accountants help keep you compliant with the IRS by filing legal documents for your business according to up-to-date tax laws, preparing annual account statements, and managing payroll so your employees’ tax codes and payments are entered properly. Doing so can help you avoid costly tax audits.
If you want to create a business plan, a qualified accountant can help you map out your finances so you can reach your goals, as well as aid you in making better financial projections and planning a budget.
In addition, accountants can help you make informed business decisions, like choosing whether your business should merge, sell, close or buy another business. Accountants are financial planners able to make you aware of the possible tax implications of every financial decision and help you examine other companies’ financial records so that you can verify their assets.
The right accountant has the power to positively turn your business around. The cost of hiring an accountant depends on your criteria and budget.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical accountant earns $37.14 per hour. A report by Xendoo found that CPAs can earn anywhere from $150 to $450 per hour.
Before you hire an accountant, it’s important to know how you will pay them. Here are some of the ways accountants are paid.
Simone Johnson contributed to this article.