What is a CPA?
Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) advise individuals, businesses, financial institutions, nonprofit organizations and government agencies on a wide range of financial and related matters. In Georgia, CPAs are licensed by the Georgia State Board of Accountancy to practice public accounting.
CPAs are distinguished from other accountants by stringent licensing requirements. They are committed to continuing professional education, and they are certified, licensed, and regulated by state boards of accountancy. To become a CPA, individuals are required to pass a rigorous professional exam after they complete their college education in order to be licensed by the states in which they practice. After they are licensed, mandatory continuing professional education requirements ensure that CPAs are current with regulatory and legal changes, as well as changing accounting standards and tax laws.
As members of the GSCPA, CPAs are required to adhere to strict professional ethics standards, which stress independence, integrity, objectivity and technical competence. Additional ethics rules apply to CPAs who are tax practitioners.
Who needs a CPA?
People turn to CPAs for a wide range of assistance – everything from business advice to help with income tax preparation. CPAs can also help with personal financial planning to build college funds, plan for retirement and create estate plans. If the IRS raises a question about a tax return, only CPAs, attorneys and enrolled agents are authorized to represent taxpayers before the IRS. CPA tax professionals often know a lot about your personal situation, so the continuity of service you receive from a CPA may be an important factor to consider. CPAs are business people in the community who will be there for taxpayers year after year.
What qualifications should I look for in a CPA?
Before you select a tax, accounting, or personal financial adviser, make sure you consider the following questions:
- Is the individual a certified public accountant?
- Is the CPA licensed to practice in your state?
- To what professional organizations does the CPA belong and how active is he or she in those organizations?
- Are your needs compatible with the CPA’s personality and expertise?
Don’t underestimate the importance of the CPA designation. Remember, those three letters are awarded only to those individuals who have passed a rigorous uniform national examination.
In addition, CPAs are distinguished from other accountants by stringent state licensing requirements. Most states require CPAs to have at least a college degree or its equivalent, but several also require post-graduate work. Compatibility, another qualification to look for in a CPA, is harder to define but is just as important as technical proficiency. Make sure that the CPA’s personality and expertise match your needs.
Keep in mind that a long-term working relationship between you and your CPA can help you take an informed, consistent approach to personal financial and business problems and may help you meet your financial goals.
What do CPAs Charge?
CPAs normally base their fees on the time required to perform the services you request. There are no “fee schedules” common to the profession. Fees depend on the type of services you require, the prevailing costs in the community, the CPA’s level of expertise, and the complexity of your work. Talk frankly with your CPA about fees. Find out how much you will pay to have work performed by a staff accountant who is under the supervision of a CPA, a higher-level employee such as a supervisor, or perhaps even a partner of the firm.
How can you get the most value from a CPA’s services?
Although all CPAs substantially meet the same education, training, and licensing requirements, they do not all provide the same range of services. Therefore, when looking for a CPA, you should analyze your current and future financial needs and select someone who can address your particular concerns. CPAs themselves have some suggestions on how you can make the best use of accounting services and get the most value for your money. Here are just a few of them:
- Be prepared to discuss your plans and objectives. CPAs are in the best position to advise you and serve your interests when they understand your goals.
- Gather information about business or personal financial decisions under consideration so you can ask the CPA specific questions.
- Clearly explain what you expect from the CPA’s services.
- Save yourself unnecessary fees by keeping good records and not using professional time for routine work.
- Keep your CPA informed of changes in your personal and professional life. A recent marriage or divorce, the birth of a child, a career change, or an especially generous bonus can all have a significant impact on your tax liability and personal financial goals.
How do I choose a CPA?
Interview the potential CPA; ask them questions in your first meeting.
Your CPA Should:
- Excel at serving people. They should enjoy their work, and take genuine pleasure from helping people like you.
- Be more honest than you with a higher level of integrity. You need someone to hold you back from crossing the line.
- Be Available for you.
- Be well experienced in the areas you need, but also a good generalist.
If you need help with sophisticated personal financial planning strategies, do not hire a CPA who spends 90% of his time preparing financial statements for small businesses, and visa versa. Check not only his credentials and references, but evaluate him by discussing examples of situations like yours. Avoid being a CPA’s on-the-job training.
- Be a good communicator, both listening and speaking. It’s also important for your CPA to know he can tell you when he has made a mistake, and right away. And no matter how embarrassing, you need to be able to tell him about circumstances that arise which might affect your financial health or of your immediate family members who may need help.
- Get along well with all kinds of people. Not only does he need to get along with you, but also with your spouse and your other advisors, and perhaps your children, parents and others who get included in family planning matters. He should be, as much as possible, a world citizen in this diversity-minded age.
- Demonstrate being attuned to matters of the heart and soul as well as the mind. What matters most in life in the end are the relationships we’ve had and how we’ve shared our love with others. If the prospective CPA does not seem to care about his own family and friends and clients to the degree you care about people in your life, consider another person.
- Do what he says he will do.
- Charge fairly for services. Be flexible in billing and be willing to work on a “value basis”, charging you for value he delivers versus time he spends.
- Have a great network of associates. Whom he can use as a resource to supplement his own knowledge.
- Enjoy learning and being creative. Always on the look-out for innovative ways to help you.
- Add Value to you and your business.