How to Choose a CPA

Your most trusted advisor.

Due to the demanding education and testing requirements that a CPA must fulfill, you’ll find that their knowledge goes beyond just preparing and filing an accurate tax return on your behalf.

CPAs work with clients all year long, not just during tax season. Your CPA can typically help you with a wide range of issues, including future tax planning, college or retirement savings plans, or business issues.

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

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.
 

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 80 hours of continuing education each 2-year period. In addition, members of the Society of Louisiana CPAs are obliged to adhere to a code of professional ethics.

What qualifications should I look for in a CPA?

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.
     

What services may a CPA be able to offer?

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

Need more info?

For additional resources on working with a CPA, as well tips on understanding your personal finances and developing money management skills, visit the American Institute of CPAs' 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy.