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How to Choose and Use a CPA

This short guide can offer you some basic tips on how to choose and use a CPA.

  • Who needs a CPA?
  • Looking for a CPA
  • What do CPAs charge?
  • What qualifications should I look for in a CPA?
  • How can you get the most value from a CPA's services?
  • Services CPAs offer

Who needs a CPA?
A CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is a personal financial planner, a management consultant, a management information specialist, a business consultant, and more.
  • CPAs act as advisers to individuals, businesses, financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies on a wide range of financial matters. Today, many individuals turn to CPAs for help with both their tax preparation and personal financial planning.
  • Increasingly, people rely on CPAs for assistance in building college funds, planning for retirement, and creating estate plans.
  • Business owners and managers of various for-profit and nonprofit organizations have traditionally depended on CPAs for auditing services and advice on developing effective accounting systems, maximizing operating results, and resolving various management problems. In addition, CPAs assist businesses in designing and installing data processing and management information systems.
  • CPAs also serve in management at companies of all sizes. As corporate managers, they perform many of the same services that outside CPAs do. They also bring special expertise and insight to management issues, helping to reengineer company finance functions, structure transactions for the capital markets, manage employee benefit plans, and prepare and analyze financial and operational information for management decision-making. Whether chief financial officer, controller, or head of human resources, CPAs are trusted members of many successful companies' senior management teams.

Looking for a CPA
One of the best ways to find a CPA is to ask friends, relatives, neighbors, or business associates for recommendations. Try to focus on those people who are in a similar financial situation. You might also want to check with other professionals, such as your banker or attorney, your local chamber of commerce, or small business owners whose establishments you regularly visit.

Another option is LCPA's CPA Locator Service. This online service offered by the Society of Louisiana CPAs is a referral service to businesses and individuals interested in finding a CPA in their geographic area who can address their specific requirements. Rates are negotiated between CPA and client.

To earn the CPA designation in Louisiana, accountants must earn 150 semester hours of college credit earned as prescribed by Board Rules at an accredited university recognized by the State Board of Certified Public Accountants of Louisiana, successfully complete a rigorous, standardized uniform national examination, and satisfy the one year experience requirements under the supervision of a licensed CPA to meet the stringent licensing requirements of the State of Louisiana. To assure that they stay current on developments in the field and maintain their licenses in Louisiana, CPAs are required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of continuing education each year. In addition, members of the Society of Louisiana CPAs are obliged to adhere to a code of professional ethics.  Ask the CPA or call LCPA to find out if the CPA is a member.


What qualifications should I look for in a CPA?
Before you select a tax, accounting, or personal financial adviser, make sure you consider the following questions:
  • Is the individual a certified public accountant?
  • Is the CPA licensed to practice in your state?
  • To what professional organizations does the CPA belong and how active is he or she in those organizations?
  • Are your needs compatible with the CPA's personality and expertise?
  • Don't underestimate the importance of the CPA designation. Remember, those three letters are awarded only to those individuals who have passed a rigorous two-day uniform national examination.

In addition, CPAs are distinguished from other accountants by stringent state licensing requirements. Most states require CPAs to have at least a college degree or its equivalent, but several also require post-graduate work.

Compatibility, another qualification to look for in a CPA, is harder to define but is just as important as technical proficiency. Make sure that the CPA's personality and expertise match your needs.

Keep in mind that a long-term working relationship between you and your CPA can help you take an informed, consistent approach to personal financial and business problems and may help you meet your financial goals.


What do CPAs charge?
CPAs normally base their fees on the time required to perform the services you request. There are no "fee schedules'' common to the profession. Fees depend on the type of services you require, the prevailing costs in the community, the CPA's level of expertise, and the complexity of your work.

Talk frankly with your CPA about fees. Find out how much you will pay to have work performed by a staff accountant who is under the supervision of a CPA, a higher-level employee such as a supervisor, or perhaps even a partner of the firm.


How can you get the most value from a CPA's services?
Although all CPAs meet substantially the same education, training, and licensing requirements, they do not all provide the same range of services. Therefore, when looking for a CPA, you should analyze your current and future financial needs and select someone who can address your particular concerns.

CPAs themselves have some suggestions on how you can make the best use of accounting services and get the most value for your money. Here are just a few of them:
  • Be prepared to discuss your plans and objectives. CPAs are in the best position to advise you and serve your interests when they understand your goals.
  • Gather information about business or personal financial decisions under consideration so you can ask the CPA specific questions.
  • Clearly explain what you expect from the CPA's services.
  • Save yourself unnecessary fees by keeping good records and not using professional time for routine work.
  • Keep your CPA informed of changes in your personal and professional life. A recent marriage or divorce, the birth of a child, a career change, or an especially generous bonus can all have a significant impact on your tax liability and personal financial goals.

Services CPAs Offer
Here are just a few of the services a CPA may be able to offer you.

Services for business owners:
  • Setting up accounting systems
  • Structuring transactions for capital markets to meet financing needs
  • Accumulating, analyzing, and reporting financial and operational information for management decision-making
  • Re-engineering company finance functions
  • Auditing, reviewing, and compiling financial statements
  • Managing investments
  • Providing management consulting services on such subjects as benefit plans, compensation plans, and data processing systems
  • Planning tax strategies and preparing tax returns
  • Minimizing tax liability
  • Representing you before tax authorities

Services for individuals:

  • Developing a personal financial plan
  • Creating a family budget
  • Planning for retirement
  • Developing an estate plan
  • Assessing insurance needs
  • Advising you on divorce settlements
  • Devising saving and investment strategies
  • Helping you build college funds
  • Planning tax strategies and preparing tax returns
  • Minimizing tax liability
  • Representing you before tax authorities

What does a CPA's LCPA membership mean for you?
It's important to know whether the CPA you're choosing is a member of the Society of Louisiana CPAs (LCPA). Membership in this CPA professional organization is a mark of distinction. It means that the CPA you hire is acutely prepared to meet all your business and financial needs. As an LCPA member, your CPA must meet stringent professional, technical, and ethical requirements, which include:
  • Peer Review: Members in public practice are subject to rigorous peer review of their accounting and auditing practice on a regular basis.
  • Continuing Professional Education: Members are required to take courses that keep them current on all facets of accounting theory and practice.
  • Code of Ethics: The AICPA has established a professional code of ethics and holds members to its strict standard of practice and behavior. Any breach of this code will result in censure by the state society ethics committee and possible license revocation by state boards of accountancy.
  • Information: The LCPA provides publications and conducts topical conferences and seminars to keep members informed and up-to-date.

Need a CPA?
Use LCPA's CPA Locator Service to find a CPA who can best meet your financial and business needs.

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