How to Hire an Accountant

by Thursday Bram on 6 September 2012 2 comments
Photo: Gangplank HQ

When you’ve found an accountant you’re considering hiring, it’s important to do some research. After all, you’ll be handing over a lot of financial data, and you need to know you can trust whoever has access to it. (See also: How to Find the Right Accountant for You)

Checking Your Accountant’s Credentials

Especially if you’re looking for help with a specific problem, it’s a good idea to confirm your accountant’s credentials before you decide to work together. Every state has its own licensing board, most of which let you confirm license details online. You can find a list of licensing boards through the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.

It may also make sense to check references or testimonials. Talking to someone who has already worked with the accountant you’re considering can help alleviate concerns. You can ask for references. You can also check for online recommendations, such as those that may be posted on your accountant’s LinkedIn profile.

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Interviewing Your Accountant

Most accountants will agree to an informal discussion before taking on any new clients, which you should treat as an opportunity to interview any accountant you’re considering working with. Ask any questions you need answered to ensure this accountant is the right one for you, such as:

  • What type of clients does this particular accountant work with?
  • How can this accountant help you?
  • What will this accountant need from you?

Also make a point to ask who will be doing the work at your accountant’s firm. Most accountants who handle personal tax returns and similar issues don’t have a big firm backing them — those big companies that handle massive numbers of tax returns every year usually rely on staff with credentials below those of an accountant. They’re perfectly fine at completing anything run-of-the-mill but may not be able to cope with something more complex. At smaller firms, though, it’s not out of the question that an accountant may rely on some outside help. Some go so far as to have routine work handled by overseas contractors, while focusing on anything more complex themselves.

Make sure you’re comfortable with whatever the answer is. Personally, if I’m paying for an accountant, I’d like to know that he’s doing the work himself or that I can walk into the office and talk to anyone he’s hired. I also want to know exactly who has access to any of my financial data. But that’s just my preference — as long as you trust your accountant and the people working with him, make the choice that feels right to you.

Paying Your Accountant

Even if price is not the foremost concern in choosing an accountant, it is something you want to talk about with your accountant in advance. Get an idea of the basic fees and costs that go along with the type of work you need done.

Provided that you’re only having your accountant handle a few personal matters, like your yearly tax return, your accountant will probably bill you after completing each task. There are some services, particularly for businesses, that an accountant may bill for on a monthly basis.

As long as you feel good about working with the accountant you’ve chosen, you’re pretty much done at this point. From here, it’s just a matter of formalizing your arrangement and letting your accountant get to work.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I've found every accountant I've used through referrals. When I'm talking to a potential new one, it's been helpful for me to give the accountant a specific example or two of why I'm coming to them rather than a blanket question like "Do you work with people with a lot of 1099 income?"

Does anybody else have advice on good questions to ask a potential accountant?

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Nikki

Getting to the point where business is so successful that hiring an accountant is necessary is a great thing...

BUT don't discount the need to understand accounting on your own.

The key to financial success is good money management. Without understanding the importance of accounting, good money management is nearly impossible. For example, I know a CEO who landed in bankruptcy because he just handed total control of his finances over to an accountant. Read his story here: http://billysbilling.com/blog/I-never-understood-the-importance-of-Accou....

I'd suggest hiring an accountant who is an excellent communicator (all too many accountants are introverts). Make sure you're always aware of what's going on with your finances. Don't become reckless after securing a reputable accountant.

Stay involved in managing your own wealth!