They say the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. Neither option seems super great, but when it comes to taxes, a certified public accountant (CPA) can help ease your fears.
Every April, tax time comes around. Every CPA on the planet is swamped with individuals and businesses needing to file their taxes from the previous year.
Tax time is also when the scammers are out in full force. Did you know that the IRS puts out a list of Dirty Dozen tax scams each year?
In addition to avoiding these scams and paying your taxes like a law-abiding citizen, you can hire a CPA to ensure you file correctly. We’ll show you how to find a reputable tax professional in your area so you can fly by April 15 like it was any other day.
Are you ready to learn how to find a CPA near you? Let’s get started!
What is a CPA
CPA stands for certified public accountant. This tax professional knows the ins and outs of the federal tax code, as well as the tax code of the particular state they live in.
Most people visit their CPAs only once a year to file taxes. Plus, a CPA can help you with questions about the IRS refund schedule or how much you might owe in taxes from last year.
CPAs also perform another crucial role. They will represent you before the IRS should any need for auditing or collecting arise.
If you own a business as a millennial entrepreneur, you typically hire an accountant to do your taxes for your business as well as your individual income. While outsourcing this work might not necessarily lower your business expenses, it can lower your auditing risk.
In addition to CPAs, there are two other main types of tax preparers. These include enrolled agents and tax attorneys.
Types of Tax Preparers
Enrolled agents, tax attorneys, and certified public accountants can all help you with tax preparation services. However, in the legal and tax world, they differ in a few minor ways.
For example, an enrolled agent is licensed by the IRS to do many of the same things a CPA does. However, an enrolled agent must pass a three-part exam or at least have previous IRS experience.
Besides coming into accounting from a separate entry point than CPAs, enrolled agents share the responsibility of having to continue their tax education. This helps keep accountants you depend on up-to-snuff with new laws and regulations.
CPAs must also pass an exam, as we’ll discuss in a minute. They are also licensed by the IRS and the state to advise their clients as well as prepare taxes.
Tax attorneys, as you can probably piece together from the name, represent taxpayers in front of the IRS. They may also provide legal advice for civil and criminal cases.
Becoming a CPA
The path to becoming a CPA is much more than just learning about the tax code. A certified public accountant career requires a college degree of at least 150 semester hours, with about 120 spoken for in college courses.
Most CPAs receive the remainder of their semester hours through post-secondary education, such as a Master’s degree in accounting. Passing the CPA Uniform exam is next up, though most college programs offer specific courses to prepare for such a test.
Though it’s referred to as one exam, the Uniform test is made up of four tests you must pass within 18 months. Common areas of study include business environment and concepts, auditing, attestation, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation.
After passing the CPA Uniform exam, newbie CPAs must continue learning more about taxes through supervision from a licensed CPA. They have to complete about 1,800 hours of working in the field to fulfill these requirements, which is most often easily done through full-time employment.
Suffice it to say that becoming a certified public account is not an easy task. In fact, it’s much more than just getting the hang of the best personal finance software or adding up numbers.
How Can I Find a CPA Near Me?
If you're looking for a certified public accountant (CPA) near you, there are several ways to go about it. One of the most common methods is to conduct an online search for local CPAs.
You can use search engines like Google or Bing to find listings for CPAs in your area, and you can also use online directories such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) or Yelp to find recommendations and reviews.
Another option is to ask for referrals from family, friends, or business associates who have worked with a CPA in the past. They may be able to recommend a local CPA who can provide the services you need. You can also check with your state's board of accountancy or local chamber of commerce for a list of CPAs in your area.
When looking for a CPA near you, it's important to consider their qualifications and experience. Be sure to check their credentials and make sure they are licensed to practice in your state.
You may also want to consider their areas of expertise and the types of services they offer. Some CPAs specialize in certain areas such as tax preparation, auditing, or financial planning, so it's important to find one that can meet your specific needs.
Once you have a list of potential CPAs, it's a good idea to schedule a consultation with each of them to discuss your needs and learn more about their services.
This will give you the opportunity to ask questions and get a better understanding of their approach and expertise.
By taking the time to research and find a qualified CPA near you, you can ensure that your financial needs are in good hands.
Questions to Ask Your CPA When First Meeting?
When meeting with a certified public accountant (CPA) for the first time, it's important to ask the right questions to ensure that you get the most out of the meeting.
Here are some questions you can ask your CPA during your initial consultation:
- What are your qualifications and experience? – You want to make sure that the CPA you're working with is qualified and experienced to handle your specific needs. Ask about their education, professional certifications, and experience working with clients like you.
- What services do you offer? – Make sure the CPA offers the services you need, such as tax preparation, bookkeeping, financial planning, or audit services. Also, inquire about their pricing and billing methods.
- How do you communicate with clients? – Determine the CPA's preferred method of communication, such as phone, email, or in-person meetings. Ask how often they will be in touch with you and how quickly they respond to client inquiries.
- How can you help me minimize my tax liability? – Ask the CPA about tax planning strategies that can help you reduce your tax burden. This may include advice on deductions, credits, or other tax-saving measures.
- How can you help me achieve my financial goals? – Discuss your long-term financial goals with the CPA and ask for advice on how to achieve them. This may include advice on investment strategies, retirement planning, or other financial planning topics.
By asking these questions, you can gain a better understanding of your CPA's experience and expertise, as well as how they can help you achieve your financial goals.
This can help you build a strong working relationship with your CPA and ensure that your financial needs are met.
What to Look For in a CPA?
Finding the right CPA for you can be difficult if you’re not sure what to look for. Here are a few characteristics you can consider as you look for a CPA to work with.
Taxes are taxes, right? No, there’s more to taxes than first meets the eye.
That’s why it’s important to consider what you need a CPA for and find one who specializes in that area. You might end up paying more, depending on what you need the CPA to do, but paying an expert once beats paying novices several times for the same service.
CPAs can specialize in several areas, including tax preparation, government, and business matters. Tax preparation is often divided into individual income tax returns and business returns.
If you’re a freelancer and you’re making big bucks from your best side hustles, it pays to pay a CPA who specializes in business income tax returns. If the CPA can master business returns, individual returns are just icing on the cake.
2. Licensed and Registered
When it comes to professional services, certified public accountants are no different than any other licensed professional. That means you want to ensure the CPA you hire is on the up-and-up when it comes to licenses and registration.
There are two resources you’ll need to check up on your new potential certified public accountant. The first is the IRS Return Preparer Office Directory and the second is the state-specific board of accountancy.
The IRS requires all CPAs who pass their Uniform exam and complete the 1,800 hours of hands-on training to also register. Legal registration means the CPA receives a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) that’s as unique as your Social Security number.
CPAs must also register within the state as recognized agents. Most states will have a database you can search to find out if the CPA you’re considering is legitimate.
In addition to listing license status, most state directories will also list the issue and expiration dates, as well as disciplinary actions or suspensions under that particular CPA. These are important factors to consider before any money changes hands.
Most people don’t know the difference between an enrolled agent and a certified public accountant. Figuring out what characteristics give a CPA more experience than the next one can be even more difficult.
However, the IRS maintains another database filled with the select qualifications of licensed federal tax return preparers. In plain language, you can look up how experienced a CPA is with this database.
More experienced tax preparers will often charge more, but they can be well worth their weight if you’re looking for a CPA you can trust. Greater experience, as you can find out from the IRS tool above, can also help you maximize your returns and ensure a more accurate return.
It’s important to note here that any CPA who files 11 or more returns per year must offer their clients the option to e-file. Many people prefer e-filing because it’s considered a safer, more secure option that ensures accuracy and completeness.
If you meet with a CPA who doesn’t offer e-filing, chances are they don’t do a lot of tax returns each year. Weigh this with the other characteristics to make your final decision.
4. Audit Defense
Certified public accountants take all the training they do as certified IRS tax agents to not only prepare your taxes but defend their preparation (and you) in front of the IRS, should there be an issue. If you find a CPA that’s not willing to sign your return noting that they prepared it for you, take your money and your taxes elsewhere as soon as you can.
Though it costs money, representation is largely part of why you pay a CPA. Otherwise, you could do your taxes and face the IRS on your own.
Certified public accountants will base their fees on several factors. Some will charge by the hour while others work off a flat rate.
In most cases, the complexity of your return may also play a part in how much you’ll pay. The more schedules you have to include with your return, the higher your tax bill will be.
Before you bring your taxes to a CPA, you should contact them to see what their base rates are for both federal and state returns. If you’re paying them for one, you might as well have them do both.
Sometimes CPAs will offer a discount if you do both federal and state, but that’s not always the case. However, CPAs are not allowed to base their fees on your refund, so keep this in mind if you come across it.
One of the most telling characteristics of a good CPA is their word-of-mouth reputation. If you find a CPA’s name drops out of a few mouths, it’s probably a good time to check them out.
At the same time, you can also read reviews online. As with anything, give these reviews the grain-of-salt treatment because they’re not always reliable.
Free Tax Prep Alternatives
It doesn’t take long as a freelancer to learn that taxes can take a huge chunk of your paycheck. All the same, if you’re not paying estimated quarterly taxes, you should see it coming.
Whether you’re a freelancer or not, there are ways you can prepare your taxes for free. You can save some money if you’ve completed work-from-home jobs or enjoyed some ecommerce success, which you can then put into some of the best banks for freelancers for next year’s taxes.
Here’s a list of some of the best free tax software you can use if you don’t want to pay a CPA:
The IRS also advertises several tax return preparation services you can take advantage of if you earn less than $56,000 per year or are above 60 years of age. These include the Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers or Tax Counseling for the Elderly.
You can also qualify for the IRS Free File program if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $73,000 per year. However, you will still need to pay for your tax returns as they are not free.
It’s important to remember that many CPAs offer the security of accurate tax returns. If you’re worried about being audited, the security of paying money to avoid any issues can be well worth the fee.
A CPA is a certified public accountant. CPAs are most known for preparing your taxes each year around tax season. However, CPAs can also perform several other functions, including filing business taxes and advising clients on tax matters.
There are many ways you can find a reliable and trustworthy CPA near you. You can use several of the resources we listed above, or rely on word of mouth to find a CPA you want to work with.
A lot of people consider a CPA worth every penny they pay for their services. When it comes to taxes, it pays to avoid auditing and errors. At the same time, many people save money each year by filing their taxes. It really depends on what you’re comfortable with and how complicated your taxes are.
Find a CPA You Can Trust
No one looks forward to tax season, unless, of course, you’re a certified public account. If you’re looking for a CPA you can work with in your area, you’ve got a ton of resources at your disposal.
We hope this article has helped you to see that finding a CPA is simply a matter of putting feelers out and doing your due diligence. Cruise the government resources in this article and you’re sure to find a CPA you’ll have on speed dial come the first of the year.
At the same time, there are plenty of free resources you can take advantage of as well. While they may not offer the same protections as hiring a CPA, they cost much less.
No matter how you approach your taxes, don’t forget to mark your calendars down. It’s much better to be prepared for tax season than late to the game.
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