It's Tax Season! The Best Questions to Ask an Accountant

It's tax season. Do you know what questions to ask an accountant? Here are four to get you started.

It’s that time of year when “accountants near me” is quite a popular Google search. But Google or the yellow pages aren’t always the best way to find the right accountant.

Before scheduling an accounting consult you want to make sure you know the right questions to ask an accountant or tax preparer.

Your Goals

Knowing what you want to accomplish by hiring an accountant can help you find the right person for the job. Some common goals of small business owners include increasing revenue, decreasing expenses, staying organized, paying as little tax as possible, and making sure all required tax returns are filed on time to avoid penalties and interest.

Some accountants may be tax experts while others prefer to help keep you organized by implementing great systems. Keep this in mind when interviewing a prospective accountant and ask the best questions to ensure you get the right accountant for the job.

The Consult

When scheduling a consult with an accountant or tax preparer, be sure and ask if there will be a fee. Some offices charge for the time they spend with you in an initial interview and it gets buried in your bill once they have completed their services.

Many accounting firms do offer free initial consults, but even if the consult isn’t complimentary, it’s really the only way to get your questions answered and find out if this is the right accountant for you. If you’re short on time or live in a rural area, this can be done over the phone, but it’s really best done in person so you can get a good feel for the rapport you will have with accountant.

To maximize your tax deductions, you’ll be sharing a lot of confidential information with your future accountant, and you want to be sure you are completely comfortable and can trust them.

The Questions

Once you’ve decided on a potential accountant, here are some things you can ask them:

1. What are your certifications?

In many areas of the world, there are no regulations as to who can call themselves an “accountant”. In Canada, for example, anyone can slap up a sign saying they are “Joe Blow Accountant”. People see the word accountant and assume Joe Blow knows what he’s doing.  

If it’s not clear that the individual has certifications, make sure you ask and understand what they are. If they have letters behind their name and you’re not sure what they mean, don’t be afraid to ask.  

While there sometimes are no regulations around the use of the word “accountant” there certainly are regulations in place for using designations like “CPA”. Most public accountants are also required to have their certifications displayed somewhere in their office.

2. What credits and deductions am I eligible for?

Tax laws change all the time, especially if there is a change in the political party that’s in power. When you are interviewing accountants or tax preparers you want to work with, if saving tax is one of your goals, you definitely want to make sure the person you plan to work with knows their stuff!

Four questions to ask an accountant before hiring them to do your taxes. Make sure you find someone who will save the most tax and do what's best for you.

3. What do you need me to do?

If you’ve never worked with an accountant before, it’s important to know what your part in the process is. You need to know how far in advance of a deadline your accountant needs your paperwork. You also need to know what paperwork they require and how they want you to get it to them.  

Many public accounting offices are now paperless which means they will only accept digital records, so you’ll need to figure out if this is doable for you. Most paperless offices have a secure encrypted online portal set up where you can “drop off” your records and then also retrieve them when they are ready for you. The accountant should be able to walk you through their processes ahead of time so you know what to expect.

4. What is your billing process?

This is just a different way of asking how much an accountant charges. There are a couple of different ways this can be handled. The traditional method is an hourly rate, but the problem with this is when you are a new client it can be hard to know all the services you will need and, therefore, how long it will take to get the work done. Many accounting firms also have different rates depending on who is working on your file which can make things even more confusing.  

Another way accountants bill that is becoming more popular lately is the flat fee. This can be a certain monthly rate or a flat amount for the whole job when it’s done if it’s not recurring work. A benefit of this method is it gives you, the client, a much clearer picture of what your costs are going to be. It’s common for accountants to ask for a retainer which can be up to half their total fee, so it’s important to know this ahead of time too.

Be leary of an accountant who can’t tell you how they bill their clients. You may end up paying way more than quoted. You can ask for a quote up front and also ask the accountant to let you know part way through the job if it looks like the final invoice is on target with the quote. Communication is the key.

Don't Know What to Look for to Find the Perfect Accountant? 

There are many more questions you can ask your accountant depending on what your goals are for your business.  Actually, I wrote a whole book of questions you can ask!! When meeting entrepreneurs online, many asked me if I could help them with their taxes. Because I'm in Canada, I only know Canadian tax laws, but I definitely know what questions you can ask in any country to find the right accountant for you and your business.

In my book, Keep More Money, you will learn:

  • the signs that show an accountant actually cares about you and your business,

  • tax deductions commonly missed by taxpayers working from home,

  • how hiring an accountant is more affordable than you think,

  • why it's important to work with an accountant at any stage of your business, and more!!

If you enjoyed this post, you'll love my book where I have more helpful tips for finding the accountant of your dreams. 

This book is for you if you've thought about finding an accountant but are intimidated by all the information out there or just don't know what questions to ask. If you feel like you're ready for an accountant or you want to make a switch from your current accountant because they just don't seem to "get" you, then this book is for you.

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