Accounting is more than just crunching numbers. A good accountant can be a vital partner in your professional life and business ventures. But how do you find an accountant you can trust?It’s not like you can risk working with just anyone. Accountants handle private information and help you make big financial decisions that impact your life. You need an accountant who’s qualified, experienced, and trustworthy. Doing your research now will pay off in the long run.
Before you start looking for an accountant, make sure you have an idea of the specific types of accounting services you need, whether that’s basic bookkeeping or complex tax planning. Not all accountants offer every type of service, and many specialize in one area over another.
Finding an accountant is something you ideally do once, and it pays off over many years. When you know the qualities to look for and the ways to find an accountant, you’re setting yourself up for success.
Qualities To Look For In An Accountant
You wouldn’t hire an employee without an interview or a resume, and choosing an accountant should be no different.
Your accountant should have a strong and extensive professional history. Make sure you research how long they have been in business and when they were first licensed. The IRS also recommends you check an accounting company’s background with the Better Business Bureau as well as your state boards of accountancy for any red flags.
Not all accounting professionals are created equal. What differentiates the true professionals from less-than-qualified individuals are their credentials.
First, make sure you are working with a CPA. A CPA is a certified public accountant who has met specific education requirements and passed vigorous qualifying state exams. They can also represent you before the IRS in the event of an audit.
Your accountant should also have the following credentials:
- Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) – A number the government requires for paid tax preparers.
- Membership to a professional organization like the Society of Certified Public Accountants.
- High level of education from a well-respected institution in the areas of accountancy and finance.
AREAS OF EXPERTISE & SERVICES PROVIDED
Many CPAs have their own areas of expertise and choose to provide specific services for specific clients. If you are looking for estate planning, business entity selection, or IRS representation, make sure the accountant you choose to work with has the skills and experience to do the job.
Compatibility isn’t all about checking boxes for credentials and services; it’s about finding a person who’s a good fit for you personally. It’s important to work with an account who makes you feel comfortable and confident about your finances. Every accountant has a slightly different style and philosophy, so be sure to talk with candidates about their individual approach.
How To Look For A Trustworthy Accountant
Make sure the information you use to find an accountant is accurate and credible. Here are a few ways to start your search:
Referrals are usually the best way to find a trustworthy accountant. Ask your friends, family members, and colleagues if they or anyone they know can recommend an accountant. It may also be helpful to seek recommendations from your local Chamber of Commerce or other small business organizations.
There are several professional organizations in the accounting industry that provide directories of qualified accountants. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has a directory of CPAs you can search by speciality and other criteria. The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) and the Society of Certified Public Accountants in your state are two other organizations that provide directories of qualified accountants.
ONLINE REVIEWS WEBSITE
Online review websites should not be your primary source of information, but they can contribute to your search for a good accountant. Keep in mind that online reviews can be posted by anyone, so it’s possible that some of the information you see is inaccurate. However, many reviews are written by honest clients sharing their experience. Check out Angie’s List or Yelp to discover accountants in your local area. Just be sure to use several other vetting methods beyond viewing online reviews to make your decision.
Questions To Ask Before You Hire An Accountant
When you narrow your list of potential accountants, set up a time to speak to each one so you can get a better sense of who they are. Come prepared with questions to help you evaluate their qualifications and ability. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Are you a CPA? (Not all accountants are certified public accountants)
- Do you have a license to practice in this state?
- When and where did you receive your license?
- Where did you attend university, and what degrees do you hold?
- Who are some of your clients?
- What are your areas of specialization?
- What size clients do you work with? (Large business? Small business? Sole proprietors?)
- What are your hours of availability? Can I reach you outside of business hours if necessary?
- Are you a member of any professional organizations?
- What fees do you charge?
Be sure to ask questions specific to your unique needs too. An accountant may be perfectly qualified, but if they don’t have experience or expertise in your area of need, they may not be the right accountant for you.
How To Maintain A Good Relationship With Your Accountant
When looking for an accountant you should take a long-term view, as this person or company will get to know you and your business over many years to come. Once you find an account you trust, make sure you take steps to develop and maintain a good relationship.
Start with a written agreement or engagement letter that outlines in detail the work you will be doing together. It’s always best for both parties to have clear expectations about the working arrangement from the start. Your accountant will likely guide you in the next steps of working together, as far as the documents they need and so forth.
It’s a good rule of thumb to meet or speak with your accountant at least once per month. Building an open and frequent channel of communication will help you stay on top of your finances. It’s also a good opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, and review financial statements.
Opsahl Dawson – Trusted, Certified Public Accountants
If you are looking for a trustworthy accountant in southwest Washington, look no further than Opsahl Dawson. With over 30 years of experience, Opsahl Dawson provides accounting services in Vancouver, Portland, and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Opsahl Dawson has received numerous awards and recognitions, including Vancouver Business Journal’s 2015 Best In Business Award and Accounting Today’s Best Accounting Firms to work for.