A CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, is the title designation for someone who has completed the Uniform CPA Exam and meets certain experience and education requirements. The AICPA, or American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, is the board that administers these licenses.
CPAs have a variety of potential jobs that they could do in the finance and business world. They could work with small, large, or international accounting firms, or in the finance or accounting department. Areas of business where you will find a CPA include:
- Audit, tax, and management consulting
- Financial accounting and reporting
- Management accounting
- Financial analysis
- Treasury/cash management
- Specialized areas of accounting — financial forensics, personal financial advising, business valuation, etc.
What Does a CPA Do?
It is important to know that a CPA is a licensed professional that can work with both businesses and individuals. They may be used for different purposes, but their expertise could definitely be utilized in both instances.
On the business side, CPAs often work at public accounting firms, such as Deloitte or KPMG for example. They perform external audits or prepare tax documents for their clients. These firms could offer management consulting services, where CPAs can be found as well.
CPAs that work with individuals or families tend to focus on their client’s matters related to their taxes. A CPA could be around $400 to hire, which is more costly than RTRP (registered tax return preparer) several times. However, could be worth it if you have a complex tax situation. You may want to consider a CPA if you own rental property, a small business, or have side gigs and require assistance with 1099s.
While it is not required to have a CPA for filing taxes, it may be beneficial to enlist their services if you have a side business, drive Lyft/Uber, or sell products on eBay, Amazon, or Etsy.
CPAs are qualified to review and maintain a company’s bookkeeping functions. They can provide reports for taxes, detailed financial statement preparation, and perform audits of a company’s books.
CPAs could provide financial advice in some capacity but would be more aligned with an individual’s ss tax planning. A CPA may not be ideal for investment planning unless they have other credentials, such as a CFP, or CFA. It is possible for a financial advisor to have multiple credentials, such as a CFP and CPA.
Do You Need a CPA?
There are several instances where you may need to hire a CPA. Some examples of times where you would require a CPA are around tax time, before you start a business, or when you require expert accounting advice.
CPAs may specialize in preparing tax documentation for both personal and business ventures. CPAs can provide tax advice in advance to next year in order to try to minimize your tax liabilities.
Some other things they can help with are helping you understand which deductions you may currently qualify for, helping you comply with the constantly changing tax laws, and even representing you to the IRS if you have been audited.
Starting A Business
A CPA can provide advice on starting a business so that you avoid costly mistakes that need to be fixed down the road. This can include the legal structure (partnership, corporation, or limited liability company), which could be difficult to and expensive to change later. Not only that, but each choice could impact your fiscal year’s taxes and reports.
Aside from setting up your business structure, CPAs can aid with the accounting functions of the business. They will help you with your financial statement reporting, bookkeeping or P&L and cash flows. Typically, new businesses start with cash accounting, but sometimes the IRS may require accrual accounting. This is where the CPA could help provide valuable instructions in setting up the correct methods for you.
When You Require Expert Accounting Advice
There may be times when you are running your new business, or even just in your personal life where the IRS may contact you. This may just be for simple information, or it may be a more detailed and involved request. Having a CPA look over this request from the IRS would be an ideal resolution so that you do not have to worry about the potential consequences of filing incorrect information.
There are other potential reasons that you may require a CPA as well, some may include:
- High earner and are looking for advice on tax breaks, or possibly shielding from potential future audits
- Receive a large inheritance and want tax reduction advice
- Major life event (e.g. married, divorced, or retirement)
- Own a rental property or other real estate and want assistance on tax benefits related to those properties
- You are thinking about taking a small business loan and need help with the loan application process
Peace of Mind
This sounds like an easy one to gloss over, however, life is complicated and stressful enough without having to worry about the IRS and potential legal issues. Working with a CPA can alleviate some of the pressures associated with tax-related issues, and other accounting services that would otherwise give a major pause to the normal person.
It is nice to have the assurance of having a professional handle their taxes, helping with tax breaks, a middle person between them and the IRS. A CPA can handle all of the above and provide very valuable peace of mind knowing that a professional is working on their side.
How to Choose an Accountant (CPA)
Now that we have an understanding of what a CPA can and will provide, the next logical step is to determine how we can choose the appropriate one for you?
Step 1: Decide When You Will Need an Accountant
The first step to choosing a CPA is deciding if you even need one in the first place. Some questions you may ask yourself that could lead to this confirmation are:
- Do you just need a professional to review your taxes?
- Do you need someone full-time for on-going advice?
- Are you looking for someone to help advise your monetary decisions?
Step 2: Research Accountants
Now that you determined that a CPA is someone you would like to hire, how do you go about finding one easily? You could search for local help, perhaps a recommendation from your friends and family, or your employer may have referrals to offer.
Performing a local search on the internet may be the easiest and quickest option for finding relevant information. It may not be as personal as a referral, but you can get an abundance of information quickly by scrolling through LinkedIn, or searching google or yelp and reading the review ratings. There are other methods, but these are the easiest methods to access info on local CPAs.
Ask Family or Friends
Perhaps you would like a more personal touch, and to meet with someone face to face or over Zoom. Asking your friends or family for a referral would be a safe route to take. Ideally, if someone you know has had a great experience with a CPA, you will too.
Step 3: Set Up an Interview
While it is possible that you might just choose a CPA based on reviews or a recommendation, you should always schedule a call or a virtual/in-person interview before making your final decision. This is the time to ask questions on how your CPA will guide you in your financial journey.
You should have a few questions prepared. A few suggested questions might be:
How do you store and secure my personal information?
Security in the digital age is of paramount importance. You want to ensure that someone working on your most intimate private information stores this safely. Ask a potential CPA how they will ensure that this information is secured for you.
How do you bill for your services?
Some or most CPAs work by an hourly or flat fee. You should know what method they charge for their services, as it may or may not align with your goals.
How long have you had your CPA license?
If you have complicated tax-related issues, you may want to work with someone who has experience in these situations. You should know how long a CPA has been licensed to get an idea of their experience level so that you can assess your comfortability level with their qualifications.
Step 4: Hiring a CPA
Making your final decision can be a huge relief. Be sure to schedule a check with your accountant if you are hiring someone full time, or join their mailing list for important information regarding paperwork you might need to file.
Should You Hire A Certified Public Accountant?
If you choose to handle your personal finances or your business accounting yourself, then you may not elect to hire a CPA. This could be sufficient if you have a relatively low complexity in terms of tax preparation, and you feel comfortable doing it yourself.
If you want someone to provide you with expert advice and direction, then you may want to start gathering your paperwork in order to hand off to a CPA. A CPA has extensive experience and knowledge that a normal person will not have. To set up your personal or business tax plans, or if you want to enlist some of the many services they offer, find a highly recommended CPA and call to set up a meeting.