With tax season rapidly approaching, you may have decided that the services of a Certified Public Accountant would be a benefit to you and your business—but you might have more questions. You might be wondering how to find a good CPA. You might be thinking, how do I know if my tax returns are going to be accurate? If you’re in the Austin area and you’re looking for a CPA to prepare tax returns for your business, consider a few tips to help you make your decision.

Finding a CPA is fairly simple, but finding the most suitable CPA to fit your needs is going to take some research. There are several ways to learn more about a firm or individual CPA, as well as several ways to begin your search for a good CPA. One of the greatest time-tested ways to gather information is word of mouth.

Listen to Referrals and Read Those Reviews

As a small business, you might know quite a few people, including owners and managers of other businesses. If your associates happen to have any recommendations for a particular CPA or CPA firm that they use, take it into consideration. Ask questions about why they chose that CPA and what their experience has been regarding the working relationship; then do some research yourself.

Once you have the CPA’s name, you can run it through your state’s Board of Accountancy—in this case, the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy. The license look-up feature will allow you to look up a firm, an individual CPA, or check the online repository to ensure that the CPA’s credentials are up-to-date.

You can also look under the IRS website’s Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers page to see if the CPA you’re researching shows up on the directory. If you’re undecided, you can use the feature to look up CPAs within a certain distance of your zip code.

Explore Their Website

Once you have the names of several CPAs, your next step is to have a look at their website. A professional-looking website is a small hint that you’re on the right track when determining how to find a good CPA. Though a website with all the bells and whistles isn’t the most crucial feature to consider in your search, it helps to supplement the credibility of the accountant that you gather during your research.

A well-planned website should have a biography of the CPAs working at the firm, outlining their educational background, credentials, and what experience they have. There should be a list of services offered by the firm, and online tools or extra materials like estimators and form downloads can’t hurt.  

Compare the CPA’s credentials listed on the website to the information you uncovered through your own research.

When Determining How to Find a Good CPA, Ask Questions

When you feel satisfied with a list of CPAs to interview, it’s time to schedule a meeting to determine that you’ve found a good (or several good) CPAs. Meeting and interviewing CPAs that you’re considering is one of the greatest ways to determine if this professional is right for you. Ask the right questions, then gauge the response of the CPA. If they seem annoyed by your questions, keep moving. A professional will understand your concerns and will do the best they can to ensure your satisfaction.

There are plenty of questions to ask when meeting with CPAs that you’re considering. The way that a CPA answers can help you narrow down your search for the right fit.

Are They the Right Fit for You?

First, make sure that the accountant in question is, in fact, a CPA. Not all accountants hold a CPA title. Because you’re technically looking at a business relationship with the CPA, you might find that it’s beneficial that your CPA have a compatible personality to yours. The CPA’s work style might be another thing to consider. Is it important to you that he or she be available outside of standard business hours in case you have any important enquiries? Ask about turnaround times both during tax season and the rest of the year.

Even more so, it’s important the be sure that you’re going with a CPA that is experienced with businesses of your type. Ask about whether they have worked or currently work with other businesses like yours. This way, you know that they’re familiar with exactly what is entailed in preparing taxes for or working with a company in your field.

Can They Meet Your Needs?

Ask the CPA to explain to you why your business should have a CPA prepare tax returns. If you want to plan your taxes early next year, or you need an involved CPA’s services for a larger portion of the year, you might want to ask the CPA if you can count on hearing from them or if they’d be available to hear from you outside of the tax season. Ask about the return rate of calls and emails.

Determine whether you simply need tax services or a full-service accountant, and ask the CPA about the work that they or their firm performs throughout the year to see if their abilities match your needs. It’s important to catalog exactly what you need done, and the more open the communication, the more aware both parties will be regarding the fit for this business relationship.

How Much Will It Cost?

Also, if you’re fairly certain of the work you need done, you might be able to request a rough cost estimate from your CPA so that you have an idea about what you can expect to pay for services. Ask about how they set their fees, whether they charge hourly, require a retainer fee, or if they offer fixed prices to see if there are all-inclusive options available to you. If not, you should be able to have an estimated price range presented for what you need to have done.

Don’t Forget About the “What If” Scenarios”

If you’re not well-versed when it comes to tax preparations, you might want to ask the CPA how they go about reviewing and processing documents, and how they determine that they’re doing so correctly. How do they avoid mistakes? What do they suggest you do if you catch a mistake they made?

As well as checking the IRS and State Board, ask the CPA about his or her educational background, their continued education classes (including what they’ve taken recently). Ask about licenses they currently possess, and research these credentials on your own time.  

Ask about “what if” situations that are possible or likely to happen in your situation.

Don’t forget to ask the CPA if they support clients during an IRS audit, and if representation comes along with initial fees or if it comes at added costs. Usually, audit representation costs extra, but it’s good to know if you’re protected ahead of time.

Finally, Be Sure to Compare Rates

Though price is important, the CPA’s rates should not be the primary factor in your decision-making process. It’s better to first compare the different CPA’s that you’ve considered and narrow them down based on the positives and negatives that you’ve discovered. Once you’ve narrowed your focus to a couple of CPAs, then you can compare prices to verify that you’re getting what you pay for. Fees may be steep, but it isn’t wise to cut quality in order to save money—at least not when it comes to your taxes.

Tax preparation can be confusing at the best of times, and though there are a lot of cheaper alternatives available to your business, it’s in your greatest interest to go with a professional. Do your homework when choosing a CPA this year. If you’re diligent in your search, you should be more than capable of knowing how to find a good CPA, one that fits your business like a glove.

*West Austin Tax is not a CPA firm.

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