What to Look For in a CPA

Hiring a CPA to help you with your accounting and your taxes is a smart thing to do. Whether you’re a business owner or a regular taxpayer, a quality CPA will be a huge asset in many different ways. A CPA acts in the role of a financial advisor, a strategic unofficial business partner and a confidant. For example, if you’re having troubles with cash flow, your CPA will alert you ahead of time and even offer solutions. The caveat to all of this is hiring the right CPA to begin with. Here’s what you should be looking for in a CPA.

Personal Compatibility

It’s not often mentioned in the list of qualifications you should seek in a CPA, but personal compatibility is essential. You’ll be interacting with your CPA frequently during the year; not just at tax time. It’s important that you have a good rapport and mutual respect. The reason is that sometimes your CPA may need to deliver bad news or help you to rein in some unhealthy business practices. You need to be able to hear these words and consider them as your CPA looking out for your best interests. At the same time, your CPA should be a person who listens to your side of things when something is disputable. You don’t need to be best friends with your CPA, but personal compatibility is a must.


Since any CPA you will be considering will be licensed, you may feel that asking for references is insulting. However, not all CPAs are equally skilled. It’s very acceptable—and even expected—for you to ask for at least two references from any CPA you are vetting. A quality CPA should be able to give you the contact information for a couple of clients who will speak to their quality of service. Make sure you follow up with the references and ask about things like customer satisfaction and whether or not that person would recommend that particular CPA.

Online Reviews

It doesn’t hurt to check the online reputation of any CPA you’re thinking of hiring. People are very keen on leaving both positive and negative reviews on sites like Yelp and on Google reviews. A 10 or 15 minute search is all you need to conduct to get a sense of how well the CPA has treated past clients. Make sure you get the reviews from third party, independent sites as opposed to the CPAs own website.


It’s important to ask the CPA how frequently they are in touch with clients. Some CPAs are very good at being personally available for their clients as much as reasonably possible. Others prefer to focus on their work and leave the day-to-day messages and interactions to their staff members; only meeting with clients personally in the case of emergencies. Consider how you would like your interactions with the CPA to be and try to find a CPA who is willing to be available on the telephone or in person as much as you think you will need.

Relevant Experience

If you’re hiring a CPA for your business needs, you should try to find a CPA with relevant experience in your industry. It’s very helpful to work with a CPA who understands your business without you having to explain every nuance. Certainly, there will be particulars that are specific to your business, but you shouldn’t have to explain every single little thing. Over time that could be frustrating for both of you. During your interview, ask if the CPA understands your business model and if they have experience working with similar clients.

Affordable Fee Structure

Another thing that you will want to address in your interview with the CPA is how they bill. CPAs vary greatly in how they arrange their fee structure. Some have a flat fee structure, with special extras added on as necessary; others bill by the hour no matter what service they are performing. All CPAs will likely have an hourly minimum. So that you can be sure you can afford any particular CPA, make sure you fully understand how much and how often you will be billed.


If you are audited, you might want to have your CPA with you to deal with the audit. Some CPAs offer this service, but not all. Find out whether or not the CPA offers representation and how they do it. Some CPAs will only represent you in an audit if you stay out of it. This may sound harsh, but often audits go more smoothly when it’s just two or more financial professionals working to resolve an issue. Other CPAs will only represent you if you agree to attend all the audit meetings; it just depends on the CPA and their policy. The CPA should be willing to represent you during an audit in some regard, because they need to demonstrate that they stand behind their work. Choose a CPA whose representation policies align with your wishes.


Many CPAs have secure online portals on their websites where they can communicate with clients and you can each send files to one another. This makes it convenient if you don’t live or work near your CPAs office. But if you are a person who feels more comfortable with face-to-face interactions and your CPA is willing to meet with you on occasion, you might prefer to hire a CPA whose office is nearby. This is a personal preference, but it’s worth considering when hiring a CPA.

This covers everything that you should look for in a new CPA. By all means, make sure you cover each of these when making your decision about whom to hire. Ideally, you’ll be working with the same CPA for many years to come. It’s nice to be able to build a solid working, professional relationship with this important part of your financial team.