Questions to Ask Before You Hire a CPA
Can you tell me about your qualifications and experience?
Don't be shy about inquiring where your CPA went to school, or about the depth of her experience. Check also for appropriate certification and educational background and membership in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the CA State Society of CPA's. These organizations require continuing professional education of members throughout their careers — approved courses to stay current with the latest accounting and tax changes.
Leyla Hanson has a Masters of Science in Taxation, and an MBA from the American School of International Management (Thunderbird.). She also holds an active CPA license in California.
Who do you work with? Who are your clients?
Tax advice, accounting and planning are just one part of the expertise you may need. As a financial professional, your CPA may be able to introduce you to other experts who can help support your business in other ways — from creating a business plan to planning for your retirement, employee benefits design or even computer system installation and support. Even if you don't have need for those other service professionals, you may want to speak with them. After all, you can tell a lot about a company by the company it keeps.
Our recommendation: Ask the firm for referrals from their other professional associates as well as their clients. Leyla Hanson, CPA has a strong network of professional associates in a variety of fields. We'll be happy to introduce them to you.
How do you describe your approach?
Every law is subject to interpretation, and tax law is no different. Some CPAs take an aggressive approach, stretching the law to its limits. Others are more conservative. To feel comfortable, you should choose the firm whose philosophy is close to your own.
Our recommendation: Come in with a hypothetical issue, and ask how the firm would handle it. The Leyla Hanson, CPA approach is to look for the logic, rather the loopholes in the law. Our firm believes that a conservative interpretation is not only the most fiscally responsible, but the one that allows our clients to sleep at night. If you're looking for a CPA who understands and is highly knowledgeable and experienced in helping small businesses grow, we hope you'll speak with us.
What kind of services do you offer?
A smaller business's needs differ from those of a large corporation. So be sure your CPA's scope of services is scaled to fit your size. Unlike larger corporations which have accounting staff and principally need tax help, small businesses may also be looking for help with a variety of tasks, from setting up their books and monthly bookkeeping to financial reports, balance sheets and invoicing, as well as tax preparation.
Our recommendation: Make a list of the areas in which you'd like help, and ask how many of those services your prospective CPA offers. Leyla Hanson, CPA offers tax compliance and planning services. In addition, she may refer you to a local bookkeeper for your accounting needs prior to tackling the tax side of the equation.
How do you charge for your services? And what do you charge?
Some CPA's provide a specified list of services for a monthly fee. Others charge on a project basis. Fees vary greatly. If you agree to a monthly service arrangement, be sure that the services you require are on the list, and that you're not paying for services you don't use. The "project basis" may appear to be more economical, but can turn out to be more expensive if you end up ordering services a-la-carte. Again, the best thing is to be clear about the kind of help you'd like before you see your CPA, and then, negotiate the best arrangement possible.
One caveat: Not all services are created equal. Your bookkeeper does not have the same level of education or expertise as your CPA.
Our recommendation: Find out exactly who will be doing what on your account, so you're not paying accounting prices for bookkeeping tasks. Leyla Hanson, CPA offers a flat rate for tax compliance work after reviewing the full scope of the project and also utilizes an hourly rate for tax planning and other non-compliance matters.
Who will I be working with?
No matter what the size of your business, you can expect your initial meeting to be with the company principals. However, especially in a larger CPA firm, that is no guarantee those are the people who will do the actual work on your account.
When interviewing prospective firms, it's essential to ask to meet the people you'll be working with on a regular basis. In a larger CPA firm, you may have a few people, even a team, handling your business. In a smaller firm, chances are much better you'll have a one-on-one relationship with the CPA whose name is on the door.
Which approach works best is completely up to you.
Our recommendation: Make sure you know and feel comfortable with the people who will be on your account, their education and their experience. Tax, like law, is a complicated field, and there are many sub-specialties. Be sure your accountant is prepared to meet the challenges your business presents. Leyla Hanson has more than twenty five years of accounting and tax experience and specializes in accounting and taxation for small businesses.