As a CPA one of the biggest complaints I hear about others in my profession is one of complacency. “My accountant doesn’t seem to know my business,” one business owner told me. “I don’t think she’s saving me enough on taxes,” others have said. One friend of mine seems to change accountants every few years. He always starts out optimistic and then winds up angry and distrustful, effectively accusing the CPA as being “no better than the IRS.”
While some of these complaints may be justified – there are good and not-so-good CPAs, just in any other profession – I’ve come to learn that when a business owner is unhappy with the service of a CPA it’s generally a two-way street. Both parties share responsibility. No one says you need to be best friends with your accountant or even invite him to your kid’s birthday parties. But a good tax accountant can and should be an indispensable partner to your business, as long as you set the tone and follow a few simple rules.
There should be no scenario where you are not getting responses to your questions that you ask your CPA. Why? Because partners don’t do that to each other. The best tax accountants I know reply quickly (within a few hours) whether emailed, texted or messaged on social media. They are client service oriented and understand your need to get answers to a question – or at least an acknowledgment – and you are not exceeding your rights by demanding a professional and timely response.
The best CPAs are also thinking ahead for their clients. They’re reaching out, proactively, during the year and making suggestions to help you minimize your tax bill. You’ve got responsibilities too. If your accountant is asking for information then get it to him quickly. If you are entering into a financial transaction that’s significant then make sure he knows about it before it happens. Proactivity is a responsibility on both sides of a good partnership.
It frustrates me when business owners say they rarely see their tax accountant or only hear from him at year end. That is not a good basis for a partnership. You must set meeting dates – I suggest May and October – to look at the year and discuss various tax minimization strategies. That way both you, and your tax partner are up to speed on the issues and you can provide whatever additional information, or take necessary actions, well before the tax year ends.
Your accountant is preparing your tax returns. But in the end…it’s your tax returns, not theirs. You can’t pass off ownership or wipe your hands of it because it’s “taxes” and “that’s what my accountant does.” If you’re ever audited or there’s a problem it will be you – not your accountant – who will be the government’s target. A good tax accounting partner will take steps to ensure you understand how tax returns works, the calculations made and why certain actions were taken. Considering the significance of your tax expense, it’s to your benefit to understand these numbers almost to the degree that your accountant does. Otherwise, how can you be equal partners?
Partners have each other’s backs and the same goes for your tax partner. If they tell you to make estimated payments then you do it. If they tell you to sign and send in certain forms, then you should do that too. If they plead with you to better organize your data and give them all receipts and documentation, then do it. Don’t cut corners. Don’t behave in a way that will give your accountant pause. For your accountant to do the best job, you’ve got to make it as simple as possible. Listen and respond to their requests. See Rule #3; these are your tax returns and your accountant is asking you to do things to ensure that the returns are done correctly and on time.
Accountants are service providers, but more importantly, they’re human. Regardless of how objective or “professional” they may say they are, they will react like humans; Particularly if you treat them poorly or don’t value their services. If you want to create a partnership with your tax accountant, treat them like you want to be treated. Don’t nickel and dime, don’t ask for discounts, and pay your bills on time. If you think your accountant’s hourly rate is too high, you may want to pay for it anyway. Just think about how you respond to your best customers who pay you well. Why should that be any different from your accountant?
Regardless of what you do for a living, your tax bill may be your biggest expense. For something this important, doesn’t it make sense to treat your accountant like a partner? You can accomplish this like any partnership, with commitment and the right attitude.
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