How to Choose the Right CPA by Michael Lortz, CPA, LEED AP

Choosing the right accountant for your business is a decision that can have a profound impact, positive or negative, on you as a business owner. The right accountant can help you meet your goals while also keeping you out of trouble.

When selecting the right accountant, keep in mind that not all accountants are the same! The best accountants are typically licensed as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). CPAs have to meet both education and experience requirements as well as pass a rigorous examination in order to become licensed. They are also required to take continuing education courses and follow strict rules including a code of professional ethics.

A good CPA does more than just crunch numbers; he or she is able to analyze numbers to produce recommendations and advice critical for the success of your business. In addition, a good CPA is adept at solving problems and telling you how you can get from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow.

Here are some of the things that you should look for and expect from the right CPA:

  • Personal financial advice. The success of your business and your personal finances are linked, and the right CPA can advise you on both. That does not necessarily mean that your CPA should be managing your investments, but it does mean that your CPA should give you proactive advice regarding retirement planning, estate planning, business succession planning and the like.
  • Tax planning. When people think of CPAs, they generally think about taxes, but there is a wide range of services that CPAs provide, and only some of them are tax experts. The right CPA for somebody who is serious about the success of their business is a CPA who does both tax planning as well as tax preparation. While many accountants can prepare accurate tax returns, a good CPA will work with you proactively to reduce your tax burden through using the right business entity, planning transactions, and making you aware of opportunities. The tax code changes frequently, so you will want a CPA who makes continuing education a priority, and who will help you understand how to use the tax code to your advantage.
  • Business consulting. The right CPA will function as a trusted business advisor to you and function as a critical part of your management team. This means finding a CPA who will be available to you regardless of the time of year. It also means a commitment on your part to communicate regularly with the CPA and include him or her in your decision making process.
  • Networking. The best CPAs are not only good at what they do, they also know many other professionals who are the best in their fields. The right CPA will be able to introduce you to the other people you need on your team: bankers, attorneys, wealth managers, etc.

Finally, make sure you understand the fees your CPA will charge you. Some CPAs bill by the hour, others charge fixed fees, and some offer both. You will generally pay more in fees when working with the right CPA, but the value you will receive should significantly exceed the cost.

Family man and active member of the Portland business community, Michael Lortz is a Shareholder at Geffen Mesher. If you have questions or would like to speak with Michael, he may be reached at 503-445-3368 or mlortz@gmco.com.

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