How to Choose a CPA

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Understanding and using CPA services

Reprinted with permission by the Tennessee Society of CPAs
Are You Making The Most Of The Services A Certified Public Accountant Has To Offer?

These trusted advisers can work as partners, offering valuable advice on all your financial needs. Along with a tradition of serving companies and individuals with competence, integrity, and objectivity, CPAs possess the up-to-the-minute skills and training needed to translate increasingly complex subject matter into information critical to making informed decisions. If you haven't already used these services, it's time to find out more about how these highly trained practitioners can expand your financial horizons. If you have worked with CPAs in areas with which they are traditionally associated, such as tax and accounting services, you may be surprised to learn about the many other types of engagements they perform. CPAs have the financial and technological expertise to address a broad variety of business and personal issues. They can help you make sense of a changing and complex world.

Why Should You Choose A CPA?

One advantage of working with CPAs is that they speak your language. These professionals live and work in your community and grapple with the same economic issues you do. Each practitioner is trained to complete tasks as complex as evaluating a business's options for global expansion and as simple as routine tax preparation. Because they apply their skills every day in real-life situations, they are adept at untangling financial as well as non-financial puzzles and illustrating the total picture with clarity and objectivity. Whether you are struggling with questions about how to chart the future of a rapidly growing company or trying to finance a child's education, a CPA can help you assess your options.

What is a CPA?

CPAs are distinguished from other accounting practitioners by strict licensing regulations. To become a CPA, it's necessary to pass a rigorous two-day national exam and meet stringent experience requirements in addition to completing a five-year course of study in a college or university. To maintain their licenses, CPAs pursue continuing professional education that keeps them current with the latest business and related issues. When you work with a CPA, you can be assured that he or she has mastered a significant body of knowledge. CPAs advise individuals, businesses, financial institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and government agencies on a wide range of financial and related matters.

CPAs are governed by a strict code of professional ethics that emphasizes their commitment to serve the public and protect the public interest. One of the most demanding found in any field, this code embodies the hallmarks of the accounting profession: competence, independence, objectivity, and integrity.

CPA firms regularly undergo independent reviews by their peers in the profession to ensure their services and procedures meet high quality control standards.

Finally, CPAs are consistently on the cutting edge of the financial world, leading the way in the technology revolution and continually seeking valuable, new information-based services that will benefit individual and business clients.

What services do CPAs offer to businesses and individuals?

CPAs are very good at anticipating and creating opportunities for their clients. They might be able to help you lower your tax burden or take advantage of an overlooked business option. Business owners and managers consult CPAs for help in creating strategic plans, updating technology systems, and assessing new opportunities, as well as for auditing and accounting services. Clients can be assured of confidentiality because of the strict code of conduct that CPAs follow. Individuals turn to CPAs for assistance with tax preparation as well as with personal finance issues such as retirement and estate planning and investment decisions.

How should I choose a CPA?

First decide what you want from your CPA. While all CPAs meet the same basic education, training and licensing requirements, not all provide the same range of services. Analyze your present and future financial needs, considering these kinds of questions:

  • Will you need help with personal financial issues, individual or corporate tax returns, retirement, estate or college planning? Are you seeking investment help?Do you need financial statements prepared for your business? Must those statements be audited or reviewed? Will you need special financial reports for government agencies?Do you want help preparing a personal or business loan application?
  • Will your business need specialized services, such as technology installations, strategic planning, electronic commerce assurance or cost management studies?

After you have determined your goals, the next step is to seek recommendations from people who might have consulted with CPAs for similar reasons. You might turn to friends and relatives, colleagues and business contacts or to other professionals, such as bankers, attorneys, and insurance agents. CPAs are also listed in phone directories, and most state CPA societies offer help in locating practitioners.

What do CPAs charge?

There are no fee schedules common to the profession. CPAs normally base their fees on the time required to perform services, the type of services required, the prevailing costs in the community, the CPA's level of expertise and the complexity of the work.

Talk frankly with your CPA about fees. Different types of services command different rates because of the expertise level of the people who perform them. Find out how much you will pay for the tasks done by a staff accountant under the supervision of a CPA, by a higher-level employee such as a supervisor and by a manager or partner of the firm.

CPAs and clients often sign engagement letters before work is performed to avoid misunderstandings.

The engagement letter describes in detail the services to be rendered, fee ranges and other terms and conditions of the engagement.

How can I get the most value from a CPA's services?

CPAs have the following suggestions on how you can make the best use of their services and get the most value for your money:

  • Be prepared to discuss your plans and objectives. CPAs can most effectively advise you and serve your best interests when they understand your goals.Gather all relevant personal and business financial information so you can give the CPA a clear picture and ask specific questions. Be clear and candid about what you expect from the CPA's services.
  • To save yourself unnecessary fees, keep good records and avoid using the CPA's professional time for routine work.

Keep your CPA informed of changes in your professional and personal life. A marriage or divorce, the birth of a child, an inheritance, a career change, or a generous bonus can have a significant impact on your tax liability and financial goals.

Find a CPA in Florida now.