In this post-Madoff era, we nervously
imagine unscrupulous accountants doing dirty deeds in back offices—but the
reality is that few personal accountants commit crimes. In fact, there aren’t
really many crimes a personal accountant can
commit without your being a willing accomplice.
In this post-Madoff era, we nervously imagine unscrupulous accountants doing dirty deeds in back offices—but the reality is that few personal accountants commit crimes. In fact, there aren’t really many crimes a personal accountant can commit without you as a willing accomplice.
What this means is that you can stop worrying about hiring someone so sleazy they’ll rob you—and start worrying about finding someone who knows the tax code so well, she can get you the best deal. To wind up with that kind of accountant, seek out a professional with the highest degree of competency, not the lowest regard for the law. It’s by knowing—and respecting—all the countless, ever-changing rules of our complex tax system that an accountant serves you best.
Here are three suggestions to help you hire the best person:
1. Poll your friends, family, and coworkers. This may be the easiest way to locate an experienced accountant who works in your area. Gathering the opinions of people you trust can allow you to cut down considerably on the time—and anxiety—you devote to the search process.
2. Hire a certified public accountant (CPA). In most states, aspiring CPAs must complete a bachelor’s degree plus about one year of specialized study, just to be eligible for a national certification exam. Those who earn a license must renew it every year by attending workshops and seminars. There is so much training involved in getting certified, and staying certified, that you can safely assume a CPA is more reliable than someone without the certification. “Taxpayers can’t afford to leave money on the table in this difficult economy,” said Wilma Hayes, a tax professional at H&R Block. “Working with a credible tax professional who has up-to-date training on the latest tax law changes will help Americans claim all the credits and deductions they’re entitled.”
3. Interview an accountant before hiring her. Do this in order to ensure that she has the experience to effectively manage your specific needs. An accountant who chiefly has small business clients will be less prepared to manage your personal finances and the nuances of the laws that affect them. “When it comes to expertise, someone with a toothache wouldn’t go to their eye doctor,” says Gene King, also of H&R Block. Another advantage of interviewing is that it enables you to judge if you feel comfortable with her.
By granting your accountant access to your financial information, you invite her to know you in a way that most people never will. So choose someone with recognized credentials, whom you trust as a person, and trust as a professional. It’s worth the effort in the end. The right accountant can minimize your tax bill and find ways to save you money throughout the year.