Finding an accountant
It doesn't matter in what stage of life you are --
a 20-something recent college graduate, a senior vice president
of a "Fortune 500" company or a self-employed small business
owner -- sooner or later you will need someone to help you with
your finances. You're going to need an accountant. When that day
comes, make sure you've done your homework. Doing research ahead
of time can save you emotional stress and money in the long run.
Choosing a financial mate
Think of choosing an accountant for your small
business or personal finances as akin to choosing a mate. In this
case, you are choosing a financial mate. You want someone who has
your best interests at heart. Someone who is a good listener. Someone
you can trust.
Why? Because an accountant has to know virtually everything
about you, your family (if you have children) and your business
(if you have one or in the process of setting up one).
Hire a certified public accountant (CPA). Joyce L.
Gioia, a certified management consultant with The Herman Group Inc.,
a management consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C., says it's best
to get a certified public accountant (CPA) to handle your financial
affairs because they are better trained and more experienced.
To be a CPA most states require students to complete
five years of coursework at an accredited university and pass a
national exam covering a variety of subjects such as income tax
law, business law and theory.
"I would not hire an accountant who did not have
a CPA," says Gioia. "Just like when you are looking for
a good consultant, you should look for (an accountant) that's certified."
Know your own needs
Have an idea of what you need from your accountant. A CPA can help
you sort through your taxes, steer you toward viable investments
and stocks, and work with you on reducing debt. Oh, and it's never
too late to start planning for your retirement.
Young adults should start planning for their retirement
as soon as possible. The later you start planning and saving, the
less money you will have when you eventually retire. If you wait
until you're in your 40s, you'll wake up all of a sudden and realize
you'll retire soon. You'll have missed 10 years to put money away.
Where to start searching
Asking your friends and colleagues who does their
taxes may be the first step in finding an accountant. Many accountants
contend that word of mouth is one of the best ways to get a lead.
They are typically friends, family and business associates.
If you are new to an area and don't know anyone, go
through the phone book and start your search there, says William
Crosby, associate dean in the College of Business Administration
at Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Fla. Crosby says it's
wise for people to always ask for a free consultation. If a firm
is not willing to give one, move on to the next firm.
Asking for references is good, but be careful Crosby
says. More than likely the firm will give you someone who is extremely
pleased with the firm's work. But it's a good starting point.
Questions to ask
Try finding an accountant with a solid background
and extensive experience in what you're looking for. Once you have
found three to five accountants you are impressed with, set up an
appointment with each one. Some questions to ask are:
- How long have you been in business?
- What services do you offer?
- What is the size and type of the clientele?
- What are the rates? Are they hourly or is there
a flat rate?
- Will they represent you if there's a dispute with
- When do they need your information in order to
prepare your taxes in time?
"Once I've determined the level experience, I
would like to know about his or her personnel. Will the CPA be doing
the work, or will a bookkeeper be doing the work?" says Crosby.
According to Cathy Hunter, an executive recruiter with Accounting
Alliance, an accounting staffing agency in West Palm Beach, Fla.,
"You want to look for an accountant with a stable, solid employment
history. People have patterns. You don't want an accountant who
has moved from job to job. That tells you something about their
Hunter also suggests getting someone who is poised,
confident and a good communicator. Remember your accountant needs
to effectively communicate with CFOs (chief financial officers),
boards of directors, bankers, attorneys and colleagues. Other recommended
traits are strong organizational and analytical skills -- a "forward
An accountant's purpose
The goal of a good accountant or tax adviser
is to help individuals and businesses accumulate and preserve wealth,
says Ron Hanser, president of Hanser & Associates, a public
relations firm for the accounting, tax and financial firm RSM McGladrey
in West Des Moines, Iowa.
"RSM McGladrey's thinking is that when a new
client approaches the firm for advice, we should be able to save
the client enough money to more than cover the fee he or she will
pay us," Hanser says. "Just as important, your tax firm
should demonstrate that it is up to speed on tax law and can apply
creative thinking in its work for you."
Crosby says check credentials and professional organizations
the accountant may be a member of.
What it really comes down to is whether you are comfortable
with the person. He or she can have all the credentials in the world,
but if you are not comfortable with the person, then it's not going
"I would want someone who has at least
five years in the business because they know more and have seen
and done things," says Jerry Eichenberger, a CPA and partner
with RSM McGladrey in Houston. "Young adults should seek an
accountant because a good accountant can save them money and make
them money. I am a CPA, and happen to believe you get what you pay
-- Updated: Nov. 21, 2002