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Nine questions to ask a tax or accounting professional

  1. Do you work with businesses similar to mine?

    While a general accountant may be just fine for your business, it's best to hire someone who specializes in small business and also has experience representing other companies in your industry.

  2. Are you the right size firm for my business?

    You don't want to hire an accountant who can't handle your size or, conversely, a firm that would view your business as too small to be significant.

  3. Will you make a good partner—or just act as a number cruncher?

    Accountants do much more than prepare returns. They can help plan your growth, offer advice on incorporating and help set up your bookkeeping and cash-flow system, among other issues. So make sure that your accountant is willing and able to play a larger role in your company over time.

  4. Do you have an untarnished record?

    Ask prospective accountants if they have any outstanding complaints against them. Have they ever been sued, and if so, what was the outcome? Have their clients ever been audited? What happened and how did they handle it? To check the background of a CPA and find out if his or her license is up to date, call your state board of accountancy. You can find the number by visiting the Go online National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and clicking on NASBA members.

  5. Will you represent me in an audit?

    Public accountants aren't qualified to stand by you in an audit but CPAs, enrolled agents and lawyers are. Even so, some qualified pros aren't willing to participate in audits. If that's the case with your accountant, go elsewhere.

  6. Am I comfortable with you?

    It's important to gauge your comfort level with various accountants. Do you feel relaxed sharing your company's important financial details? Does the professional show an understanding of how your small business operates?

  7. Will you teach me how you do my books?

    If you're choosing an accountant or tax professional, find someone who will take the time to educate you about how they do your accounting and tax reporting. Whether or not you actually do your own books, as the owner of the business you need to know how to do them. This will help you better run your business and it gives you the peace of mind of knowing that business will continue uninterrupted should your accountant drop off the face of the earth. Understanding your books also enables you to review your books from time to time to insure that neither your accountant nor your employees are intentionally or unintentionally mishandling the accounting.

  8. Do you know how to use QuickBooks?

    Understanding your accounts will be much easier for your accountant if he knows how to use QuickBooks. If not, your accountant will have to advise you on what reports to give him.

  9. What will your services cost?

    Once you've located someone with whom you'd like to work, request a written estimate of the anticipated cost. The best way to determine if the price is fair is to compare estimates with two other accountants. If one charges significantly more, find out why. The estimate could include services you don't need or want.

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