Accountants are a little like shrinks. You confide almost everything about your life to them – and pay them for their expertise in managing your money. Just like doctors and lawyers, your accountant should be someone you trust.
Before you even hire an accountant, make sure he or she is certified—a CPA. Ask basic but important questions about billing policies, experience level and current licenses. Get a list of recommendations.
“It’s a very personal relationship,” said Cari Weston, a certified public accountant and a senior taxation manager at the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). “It’s important that you make a connection with your accountant.”
Much can go wrong with that connection, of course. So if you’ve noticed any of the following practices, it’s almost certainly time to say goodbye.
1: Your accountant has complaints or lawsuits.
Since your accountant is a licensed CPA you can easily check with your state board of accountancy to see if any complaints or lawsuits have been lodged. You should do that periodically -- not just during the hiring process.
2: Your accountant offers to cheat on your taxes for you or for personal gain.
If he or she starts making improper offers to boost your tax refund or lower your taxable income by inflating or inventing deductions – you should leave. An accountant’s refusal to sign your return or to give you a copy of your tax return is also very suspect. “If they’ve lied to you or they’re cheating or suggesting questionable behaviors, it’s time to go,” said Weston. “Any activity that makes you uncomfortable should be a red flag.”
3: Your accountant can’t keep up with your new business ventures.
If you were on another company’s payroll filing individually, for example, and have now started your own business, your current accountant may no longer be skilled enough to prepare your taxes. Find someone with broader experience and more advanced training.
4: Your accountant isn’t up to date on tax law.
Accountants should constantly keep their knowledge up to date; tax laws change often. Weston recommends asking your accountant what type of ongoing training or recertification she’s recently received.
5: Your accountant hasn’t entered the digital age.
If you’re tech savvy but your accountant is still asking you to fax your tax receipts, it’s time to find a professional with at least an email address and a website.
The bottom line is that if you’re uncomfortable or believe your accountant is doing a lousy job – don’t hesitate to end the relationship and move on. These are your taxes, after all.
“People tend to stick around too long because they feel guilty leaving,” said Weston.
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