Finding the right CPA or the right accountant is really important. Important because the results depend upon who you get, and it’s an area where you, the client may not be aware of whether you got the best advice or not.
There are a lot of stuffy accountants (CPAs) out there who have very high opinions of themselves. They talk about “the firm” and act like they are something special. They tend to be rigid, unimaginative, high priced and advocate for themselves.
There are also a lot of very friendly nice guys who are not very competent. They talk a good spiel, but they have neither the resources nor the experience to handle your problem.
So how do you find the right CPA? What are you looking for? Lets see:
1. A hard-bitten no nonsense negotiator who can deal with the IRS at their level, knows all the audit tricks, has been there many times, a street fighter.
2. A clever innovative thinker who knows all the ins and outs of the law, understands the difference between light gray and dark gray, wants to take you to the limit of tax savings, but without crossing the line.
3. A plugger, who takes your numbers, creates a return, makes sure it’s correct, but doesn’t go near the gray zone, never suggests anything, but then doesn’t look too deeply into what you give him/her.
4. A planner, who wants to get into every area of your financial life and make suggestions. She’s going to make sure you have that auto log, be calling you about new tax law changes, thinks that a tax planning session each year is essential, and wants to teach you tax law that applies to your situation so you can be in control.
These are just a few of the personalities you will encounter. Which one is right for you? What are your needs? What are your weaknesses? Which one will do the right job for you?
I think you have to come up with some questions that ferret out the accountant’s personality and approach. Here are some I would ask:
I’m under audit. The auditor says that unless I appear without my accountant and answer questions, she will disallow all expenses. What do I do? (this tests the accountant’s IRS procedures knowledge, and his gumption)
I didn’t keep my auto log during the year, but I could re-create it, kind of. What should I do? (tax law test)
I need to run some personal expenses through my business. What’s the best way to hide these? (ethics test)
I suspect my employee is stealing inventory. How do I deal with that? (real life, legal and creative test)
I must have a tax return for the bank. I don’t have all my figures together. What should I do? (ethics test, problem solving test)
How can I reduce taxes by hiring my kids, who are in grade school? (creative test, tax law test)
You prepare a return. It’s selected for audit and the auditor finds all kinds of errors in the return which she says are your fault. What do you do? (ethics test)
It’s 3pm on a Saturday and I have a meeting with my partner and an accounting/tax question comes up. Are you available? ( personality test)
I give you all my tax stuff, and you give it to a junior accountant to prepare the return, and he takes twice the time an experienced accountant would, since he’s new. How do you bill me? (ethics test)
You’ve seen my return. Without giving me names, tell me about some other clients you have that have similar tax situations. How did you add value for them? (experience test)
I talked to another accountant who will remain nameless. He says you have some “regrettable” things in your past? What is he talking about? (this is a trick question, fishing to see whether the accountant really does have anything, and how he will field the question)
How do you know whether to accept me as a client? (listen real carefully to this one!)