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Mar 15, 2018

Finding and Working With a Professional Accountant

By Jarrod Upton

Photo credit: Getty Images

It’s unlikely that most Americans will need professional accounting services. This is especially true now that the standard deduction has been significantly increased in the tax reform bill recently passed by Congress. What that means is more Americans are probably less likely to itemize their individual deductions on their tax returns, opting instead to take advantage of the expanded standard deduction. However, for some individuals, it is advantageous to engage the services of an accountant and if you’re in that category, you might ask, “How can I find the best accountant to help me address my tax and accounting needs?”

When Might You Need an Accountant?

The circumstances that might give rise to utilizing an accountant’s services are going to vary from person-to-person. For example, if a person owns a business or has numerous investments, then more than likely they would benefit from an accountant’s services. Or perhaps they are going through a major life change and they are not sure of the tax implications – whether it’s a marriage, divorce, birth of a child, establishing a college fund, or entering retirement – they might also benefit from an accountant’s advice to make sure that all appropriate tax laws are being followed. For others, they might be too busy in their professional lives and so they delegate their tax and accounting responsibilities to an accountant, or perhaps they are just simply uncomfortable or unwilling to undertake these responsibilities themselves. Whatever their motivations might be, there are individuals who choose to engage the services of an accountant in order to benefit from their professional expertise.

Accounting Options

If an individual has decided that they could benefit from accounting services, then they will also need to decide what kind of service they require. For the most part, this will be determined by the level of their personal tax complexity. For example, let’s say an individual intends to itemize some deductions on their tax return but their situation is relatively straightforward and routine, then it’s possible they could accomplish their goals by simply utilizing an online tax software program like TurboTax. Or if they decide they would rather not do it themselves and would prefer to meet face-to-face with someone, then they might choose a tax preparation company like H&R Block.

However, if an individual owns a business or has numerous investments in stocks, real estate, oil and gas, or other kinds of businesses, and they have significant income, expenses, gains or losses from those investments, then it’s likely they will want to engage the services of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), which is the highest professional designation that an accountant can receive.

In addition, depending on the nature of those businesses and investments, an individual might want to seek out a CPA who specializes in a specific area of business. All industries are unique and each have tax regulations which govern their specific field, so finding an accountant with expertise in a specific area of business is a wise idea to consider.

Comparing Costs and Representation

Other factors to consider when utilizing accounting services are the relative costs. Typically, an online software program charges a one-time flat fee based on the type of tax form an individual is filing. The same is generally true of a tax preparation company, though they are usually more expensive, given the personal nature of their service. Finally, engaging the services of a CPA will be the most expensive. Often CPAs will charge by the hour (like an attorney) or they might request a monthly retainer, depending on the services they are providing. Or they might also charge a one-time flat fee for preparing and filing taxes.

Another consideration is representation in the event of a tax audit by the IRS. It’s unlikely that most Americans will ever be audited but in the event you are, you will probably want to be represented by the accountant who prepared your taxes. Most CPAs are qualified to represent their clients at an IRS audit but it’s a good idea to make sure this is a service they offer.

How to Find an Accountant

If an individual has decided they would like to engage the services of an accountant and they are interested in finding one, there are several options available to them.

One of the most common ways is by personal referral. An individual might ask friends, relatives or business colleagues who they use for accounting services and whether they are satisfied with them. They might also ask for a recommendation from other professionals they might be consulting with, like an attorney, for example. Or they might attend business networking events where it is likely they would meet someone offering professional accounting services.

Finally, they could also conduct an online search. The Directory of Accounting Professionals is a nationwide database of over 35,000 CPAs, accountants and tax preparers with full details including addresses, phone numbers, website, services offered and specializations. The database is searchable by zip code so it’s possible to locate a professional accountant in your specific area with your specific needs.

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