Find the right CPA

There are specific questions you should ask before you commit to hiring a CPA. Below is a list of interview questions you can ask a CPA to determine if they are the right fit for the services you need.

Some important criteria to consider include the CPA's experience, education and training, areas of concentration, professional and community involvement, and firm size.  

Compatibility is important. Consider whether the person's business style and attitude match your own, be it formal or informal, conservative or aggressive. A long-term working relationship between you and your CPA can offer you an informed, consistent approach to your personal and business financial issues.   

General questions to ask a potential CPA

How long has your firm been in business?
Ask yourself, do you prefer a firm that has an established record, or a new firm that is developing its best customer list?

Do you maintain an active CPA certificate?
After a CPA certificate is awarded, the CPA is required to complete 120 hours of continuing professional education every three years to maintain an active status. If a CPA does not have active status, they must use 'CPA, inactive' as their credential. The Minnesota Board of Accountancy website has a directory of CPAs with an active certificate. 

Do you have a firm license to practice public accounting?
A firm license means that the state of Minnesota has issued a permit for the firm to practice public accounting. A firm that implies in any way that it is a CPA firm must have a firm permit. You can verify a firm has a permit on the Minnesota Board of Accountancy website. 

Do you offer an initial consultation and is there a charge?
Many firms offer a free initial consultation and should be able to provide an estimate of the fees for the services you require.

Can I contact any of your current clients for a referral?
A reputable firm will be willing to provide you with references.

What education have you recently completed in your area of expertise?
CPAs who have an active certificate to practice public accounting are required to complete a specified amount of continuing professional education. CPAs receive education credit by attending courses, writing articles or teaching.

Are you a member of a professional organization such as the Minnesota Society of CPAs and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants?
CPAs who are members of their local and national associations take pride in their profession. They acknowledge that, as a CPA, they represent not only themselves but the profession as a whole. Professional associations provide opportunities, tools, training and resources for CPAs.

What other certifications are held by CPAs in your office?
The importance of this question will depend on the type of services you need. Look for the following (this in not intended to be an inclusive list): 

  • MBA – Masters in Business Administration

  • CFP – Certified Financial Planner

  • PFS – Personal Financial Specialist

  • ABV – Accredited Business Valuation

  • CFE – Certified Fraud Examiner

  • CBA – Certified Business Appraiser

  • MCBA – Master Certified Business Appraiser

  • MBT – Masters of Business Taxation

  • CFA – Chartered Financial Analyst

  • RIA – Registered Investment Adviser

    Questions for small-business owners

Are you looking for expertise and industry knowledge of your business?
Ask what experience and what percentage of the CPA's practice comes from other clients with a similar business.

    What is your hourly rate and what charges can I expect for questions I have throughout the year?
    A reputable firm will be able to provide you with this information.

    What computer programs do you prefer your clients to use for record keeping?
    Using a program the CPA is familiar with can save time and money on your bill. A CPA firm will also be able to help you in setting up and maintaining computerized bookkeeping.

    When was your last peer review, and would you be willing to show me the report?
    Public accounting firms that perform audits, compilations and reviews are required to have a peer review performed every three years. The peer review is designed to ensure that firms have adequate quality control systems.  

    Still unsure about which CPA is right for you? Try the MNCPA's free CPA Referral Service.

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