Hopefully, our recent series of posts on accountants have helped you build a better sense of what to expect from this valuable professional services relationship. Changing accountants can be a time-consuming project, but, if you do not currently have an accountant as part of your professional team or you are unsatisfied with your existing accountant, a few simple questions can guide you to the right solution.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that you need to direct the first question at yourself. Ask:
What do I need an accountant for, and what services do I expect the accountant to perform?
A recent article from my colleague, Mike McAninch, provides a great description of what tasks your accountant should perform. If you are looking only for tax preparation for your practice and personal returns, this relationship will look different than if you are utilizing an accountant in conjunction with bookkeeping and payroll services. Many practice owners would benefit from having full-practice support: bookkeeping, monthly ledger review, payroll services and tax preparation. The less accounting and bookkeeping work a dentist performs, the more time he or she has available to see patients.
Once you have a solid idea of the services and role you want your accountant to play, it is time to interview possible candidates. If you’re at this stage, I strongly encourage you to interview at least three accountants.
For the most comparable results, have your list of questions ready. The following are some questions I suggest asking during this process, along with a little background about why they are important.
What license or designation do you have? What license or designation will the team working on my books have?
Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are the gold standard. Enrolled Agent (EA) is another reputable designation. When it comes to bookkeeping, a designation is not as important as experience, but an undergraduate or associate’s degree is preferred.
How long have you been in the tax business?
As a small business owner, you want an experienced team that has seen your situation, or one very much like it, before.
What tax issues do you specialize in? What industries do you specialize in?
There are many dental-specific CPAs. The ADCPA is a good starting point for identifying accountants who are experienced in the dental field. At a minimum, you likely want an accountant who is familiar working with business owners in the medical services field.
Do you outsource any work?
Your accountant outsourcing services should not be a deal-breaker, but you should understand how your team is formed and who is doing your work.
What is your fee structure?
Your fee schedule will be driven by the level of service for which you engage your accounting team. My colleague, Katie Collins, recently addressed how accountants are paid and how to treat their fees.
If the accountant you are speaking with is familiar with your tax return, you can add:
Do you believe I am paying too much, too little or the correct amount on my taxes?
Asking for an analysis of prior years’ tax returns can shed a lot of light on an accountant’s philosophy. I know some dentists who are comfortable with pushing the envelope on tax-related questions. I know others who want to take a more conservative approach to their taxes. What is important is that your accountant knows where you fall on this spectrum and then acts in your interests.
Just as important as the actual responses to the preceding questions will be how an individual or team fits. Throughout the interview process, pay attention to soft skills as well. How responsive does the team appear? Are its members able to clearly state complex accounting issues? Do you have a good rapport with the team? How well will they interact with the rest of your professional advisory team (financial advisors and attorneys)?
If you have questions about this series of articles or how to find an accountant of your own, a Practice Integration Advisor would be happy to assist.
This commentary originally appeared December 18 on DentalTown.com
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