Selecting an Accountant

If you don't have an accountant, you should shop around for one just as you would for any other service provider. Talk with your peers in the business community about their accountant. Interview several candidates. Ask yourself the following:

Some accountants seek a professional designation to set themselves apart from others. Certified Public Accountants have attained the "CPA" title by passing a rigorous examination covering accounting, business law, auditing, and taxes. A CPA is required to have a college degree (or a high level of work experience), and must meet an annual continuing education requirement. The CPA license is administered in every state by some type of state licensing board. A CPA must abide by a code of professional ethics as administered by a state board of accountancy. Many small business owners are more comfortable choosing a CPA as their accountant because, as a rule, they feel it assures them a high level of professional competence.

Some states also have additional professional designations for accountants. For example, an Accounting Practitioner (AP) must pass an examination before earning professional designation, and must meet certain continuing education, licensing, and professional conduct standards. Some non-CPA professionals may not always have as broad an education as a CPA, but a given individual might have the perfect accounting and tax expertise for your business.

Don't wait for an upcoming deadline to begin looking for an accountant. Try to do it well in advance of your need for his or her services. Also, the worst time to shop for an accountant is during the "busy season" (January through April). Accountants generally don't have time for "interviews" during that time of year.