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- The first step to finding a good accountant is to ask the people close to you who they recommend.
- Think about your own priorities and remember the essentials that any good accountant should have.
- Ask specific questions designed to ensure that you know what you’re getting into.
I’m a financial planner, but I don’t prepare taxes. It’s tax season, which means months of emails, texts, DMs, and tags in comments asking if I know a good accountant.
Finding a “good” accountant can feel like a moving target, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether this is your first year working with an accountant or you’re looking to switch to a new one, here’s how to start the search.
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1. Ask the people in your circle
The reason I get so many questions about where to find an accountant is because it’s so hard! The best advice I have is to ask around. Ask your friends, Facebook groups, and other communities you’re part of. When you ask for a referral, ask why they like their accountant so you can get a sense if they’re worth contacting.
You can also check local Yelp reviews or Google reviews. Most people leave reviews if they loved or hated their experience, so you can get a sense of why an accountant did or didn’t work for someone.
2. Figure out your priorities for your accountant
Do you want someone to walk you through your tax return or do you prefer to be more hands-off? Some accountants will ask you to send all your documents and turn around and send you a completed return. This is great if you’re under a time crunch and are comfortable reviewing the return via email. Others will have a meeting with you while they do your return and ask you questions along the way. This is a good option if you want to have time to ask questions and get things explained to you.
Do you want someone who has expertise working with folks in your field? If you like the idea of someone speaking your industry language (like dealing with all the W2s and 1099s from your dozens of acting gigs last year), it could be worth looking for an accountant who does just that.
Do you need someone to also handle bookkeeping, payroll, or quarterly taxes? If your business needs tax advice all year round, you may want to look for a more full-service accounting firm that can help with all of the above and who you can reach throughout the year, not just tax time.
3. Think about the must-haves
That being said, there are some details that are important priorities no matter what your other needs are. Here are five of those.
- They’re easy to reach. If you find yourself having to email your accountant multiple times to get a response or you don’t know who you need to reach out to if you have questions, it might be time to look elsewhere.
- They’re willing to get on a call with you. Sometimes, email exchanges are not enough, and it’s time to hop on a call. If your accountant insists on email only or the email exchanges are getting increasingly frustrating, that’s a red flag.
- They explain things in a way that makes you feel at ease (even if you don’t understand every word they are saying). A good accountant is a good communicator as much as they are a number-cruncher. If you walk away from a conversation feeling more confused or uneasy, it may be time to talk to someone else.
- They have an onboarding process. Does your accountant have a checklist, a tech platform, and a place to upload documents? Having an onboarding process is a good indicator that the accountant has set up systems so tax returns don’t slip through the cracks.
- They are an enrolled agent or certified public accountant. Did you know literally anyone can call themselves a tax preparer? They just need to get a tax preparer ID with the IRS and they’re in business. I’ve even seen returns where the client’s “accountant” refused to put their name on it and instead filed the return as “self-prepared.” Make sure your accountant is either an EA or CPA.
4. Ask a potential accountant the big questions
Once you’ve found a potential accountant, these questions will help you figure out if they’re right for you.
- If you’re trying to get an idea of how busy they are, ask: How many clients do you work with?
- If you want to know how they organize themselves, ask: Can you walk me through your process for tax return prep? How do you typically like to work with clients?
- If you want to check an accountant’s capacity, ask: How big is your team? Will I be working with you or someone else?
- If you want someone who works with clients like you, ask: Who are your typical clients?
- If you want to know how they communicate, ask: What is the best way to reach you? What can I do if I don’t hear from you for a few days?
- If you want to learn more about who they are, ask: What do you enjoy about your work?
- If you want to see if they can put you at ease, ask: Can you explain this concept to me?
- And if you want to know if they have your back, ask: How would you support me in the event of an audit?