4 ways to spy on your CPA

3. How did your CPA firm do in its last peer review?

Firms that perform some specialized tasks, such as auditing, are required to go through a peer review every three years, and some firms post those reports on the AICPA's website, says Gary Freundlich, technical director of AICPA peer review program. If a firm falls into that category, you can find the report online.

Firms earn one of three grades: pass, pass with deficiencies or fail, says Freundlich. Historically, 94 percent of peer reviewed firms earn the grade "pass," he says. "The results are very useful information to the consumer," says Freundlich.

Just as not all types of firms are required to undergo peer review, not all firms that go through the process will post their reviews at the AICPA site. But some firms may post the reports on their own sites. And "there's nothing to prevent John Q. Public from asking a CPA firm for a copy of its peer review report, and that's not a bad idea," Freundlich says.

4. Is your CPA also a personal financial specialist?

A personal financial specialist, or PFS, is a CPA who has taken additional classes and gotten a second certification in personal financial planning. He or she must complete 60 additional hours of financial planning education, pass an exam and log 3,000 hours of business experience in financial planning. They also must complete 80 hours of continuing education every three years.

You might want a CPA-PFS if you want to talk about your overall financial planning strategy or about pieces of that larger blueprint, such as taxes, retirement or estate planning, says Allegretti.

A CPA-PFS will have the CPA credentials in addition to business experience in at least one of five areas of financial planning -- estate planning, retirement, tax, investment and risk management -- and will have passed a financial planning exam, Millar says.

You can verify that a CPA has earned the Personal Financial Specialist credential at the CPA institute's website, searching by either city or state.

If your CPA is also a Certified Financial Planner, broker dealer, or Registered Investment Advisor, you'll have access to additional information about him and his practice.

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