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How to find an Accountant

accountants-cityscape1The best way to find an accountant is to determine exactly what services you will need.  Your needs may be straight forward and not that complicated or you may have a business that you need you need tax planning who can advise you in structuring an employee benefit plan and retirement plans that offer your business the maximum in tax savings.  Once that is determined you can then ask for referrals.  A good place to start is with friends, business acquaintances or other professionals that you may know.  Are you a member of a local Chamber of Commerce or  a "service club such as": Rotary Club?  They are great sources for referrals.

So what do I need?
We have listed information
below to help you select the proper person to do your taxes.

Certified Public Accountant
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the statutory title of qualified accountants in the United States who have passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination and have met additional state education and experience requirements for certification as a CPA. Individuals who have passed the Exam but have not either accomplished the required on-the-job experience or have previously met it but in the meantime have lapsed their continuing professional education are, in many states, permitted the designation "CPA Inactive" or an equivalent phrase. In most U.S. states, only CPAs who are licensed are able to provide to the public attestation (including auditing) opinions on financial statements. The exceptions to this rule are Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio where, although the "CPA" designation is restricted, the practice of auditing is not.

Many states have a lower tier of accountant qualification (below that of CPA), usually entitled "Public Accountant" (with designatory letters "PA"). However the majority of states have closed the designation "Public Accountant" to new entrants, with only about 10 states continuing to offer the designation. Many PAs belong to the National Society of (Public) Accountants.
Many states prohibit the use of the designations "Certified Public Accountant" or "Public Accountant" (or the abbreviations "CPA" or "PA") by a person who is not certified as a CPA or PA in that state. As a result, in many circumstances, an out-of-state CPA is restricted from using the CPA designation or designatory letters until a license or certificate from that state is obtained.

Texas additionally prohibits the use of the designations "accountant" and "auditor" by a person not certified as a Texas CPA, unless that person is a CPA in another state, a non-resident of Texas, and otherwise meets the requirements for practice in Texas by out-of-state CPA firms and practitioners.
Many other countries also use the title CPA to designate local public accountants.

Services provided by CPAs
Accountants2The primary functions CPA fulfill relate to assurance services, or public accounting. In assurance services, also known as financial audit services, CPAs attest to the reasonableness of disclosures, the freedom from material misstatement, and the adherence to the applicable generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in financial statements. CPAs can also be employed by corporations—termed "the private sector"—in finance functions such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or finance manager, or as CEOs subject to their full business knowledge and practice. These CPAs do not provide services directly to the public.

Although some CPAs serve as business consultants, the consulting role is under scrutiny following the corporate climate in the aftermath of the Enron scandal. This has resulted in divestitures in the consulting divisions by many accounting firms. This trend has since reversed. In audit engagements, CPAs are (and have always been) required by professional standards and Federal and State laws to maintain independence (both in fact and in appearance) from the entity for which they are conducting an attestation (audit and review) engagement. However, most individual CPAs who work as consultants do not work as auditors. CPAs also have a niche within the income tax preparation industry. Many small to mid-sized firms have both a tax and an auditing department.

Whether providing services directly to the public or employed by corporations or associations, CPAs can operate in virtually any area of finance including:
  • Assurance and Attestation Services

  • Corporate Finance (Merger & Acquisition, initial public offerings, share & debt issuing)

  • Corporate Governance

  • Estate Planning

  • Financial Accounting

  • Financial Analysis

  • Financial Planning

  • Forensic Accounting (preventing, detecting, and investigating financial frauds)

  • Income Tax

  • Information Technology, especially as applied to accounting and auditing

  • Management Consulting and Performance Management

  • Tax Preparation and Planning

  • Venture Capital

While some CPAs are generalists and offer a range of services (especially those in small practices) many CPAs specialize in just one area and do not provide all the services listed above.

CPA exam
In order to become a CPA in the United States, the candidate must sit for and pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (Uniform CPA Exam), which is set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. The CPA was established in law on April 17, 1896.[2]
Eligibility to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam is determined by individual State Boards of Accountancy. Typically the requirement is a U.S. bachelors degree which includes a minimum number of qualifying credit hours in accounting and business administration with an additional 1 year study. This requirement for 5 years study is known as the "150 hour rule" and has been adopted by the majority of state boards, although there are still some exceptions (e.g.California). This requirement mandating 150 hours of study has been adopted by 45 states.

The Colorado State Board of Accountancy allows Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), together with Chartered Accountants from eligible jurisdictions (Australia, South Africa, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand) automatic eligibility to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam as a Colorado candidate. As of December 9, 2009, ACCA members are not automatically eligible to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam.

Certain overseas qualified accountants seeking to become U.S. CPAs may be eligible to sit for the International Qualification Examination as an alternative to the Uniform CPA Exam.
The Uniform CPA exam tests general principles of state law such as the law of contracts and agency (questions not tailored to the variances of any particular state) and some federal law as well.

Other licensing and certification requirements
Although the CPA exam is uniform, licensing and certification requirements are imposed separately by each state's laws and therefore vary from state to state.

accountants3State requirements for the CPA qualification can be summed up as the Three Es—Education, Examination and Experience. The Education requirement normally must be fulfilled as part of the eligibility criteria to sit for the Uniform CPA and the Examination component is the Uniform CPA itself. Some states have a two tier system whereby an individual would first become certified as a CPA—usually by passing the CPA exam. That individual would then later be eligible to be licensed once a certain amount of work experience is accomplished. Other states have a one tier system whereby an individual would be certified and licensed at the same time when both the CPA exam is passed and the work experience requirement has been met.
Two-tier states include Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Montana, and Nebraska. The trend is for two-tier states to gradually move towards a one-tier system. Since 2002, the State Boards of Washington and South Dakota have ceased issuing CPA "certificates" and instead issue CPA "licenses," and Illinois plans to follow suit in 2012.

A number of states are two-tiered, but require work experience for the CPA certificate, such as Ohio.

Work experience requirement
The experience component varies from state to state:

  • The two-tier states generally do not require work experience for a CPA certificate(it is required for a license to practice).

  • Some states, such as Colorado and Massachusetts, will waive the work experience requirement for those with a higher academic qualification compared to the state's requirement to appear for the Uniform CPA.

  • The majority of states still require work experience to be of a public accounting nature. However an increasing number of states, including Oregon, Virginia, Georgia and Kentucky will accept experience of a more general nature in the accounting area. This allows persons to obtain the CPA designation while working for a corporation's finance function.

  • The majority of states require work experience to be verified by a licensed CPA. This can cause difficulties for applicants based outside the United States. However, some states such as Coloradoand Oregon will accept work experience certified by a Chartered Accountant as well.

accountants4Over 40 of the state boards now require applicants for CPA status to complete a special examination on ethics, which is effectively a Fourth E in terms of requirements to become a CPA. The majority of these will accept the AICPA self-study Professional Ethics for CPAs CPE course or another course in general professional ethics. Many states, however, require that the ethics course include a review of that state's specific rules for professional practice.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE)
CPAs are required to take continuing education courses in order to renew their license. Requirements vary by state but the vast majority require 120 hours of CPE every 3 years with a minimum of 20 hours per calendar year. The requirement can be fulfilled through attending live seminars, webcast seminars, or through self-study (textbooks, videos, online courses, all of which require a test to receive credit). As part of the CPE requirement, most states require their CPAs to take an ethics course during every renewal period. Again, ethics requirements vary by state but the courses range from 2–8 hours.

Inter-state practice
An accountant is required to meet the legal requirements of any state in which they want to practice. Also, the term "practice of public accounting" and similar terms are given definitions PA status under reciprocity to a CPA licensed in another state. CPAs from other states with less stringent educational requirements may not be able to benefit from these provisions. This does not affect those CPAs who do not plan to offer services directly to the public. Moreover, most states would grant the temporary practicing rights to a CPA of another state.

Enrolled Agent
An Enrolled Agent (or EA) is a tax professional recognized by the United States federal government to represent taxpayers in dealings with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The profession has been regulated by Congress since 1884.
To become an Enrolled Agent an applicant must pass the Special Enrollment Examination or present evidence of qualifying experience as an Internal Revenue Service employee. A background check, including a review of the applicant’s tax compliance, is conducted. The IRS also requires Enrolled Agents to complete 72 hours of continuing professional education every three years.

The position of Enrolled Agent was created as a reaction to fraudulent war loss claims in the wake of the American Civil War. Unlike the highly trained, tested, and continually educated professionals of today, the first "EAs" were appointed with little or no qualifications other than a minimal background in bookkeeping. According to the National Association of Enrolled Agents there are currently about 46,000 practicing EAs in the United States.

The right to practice before the Internal Revenue Service is regulated by Federal statute, and persons authorized to practice are known as "Federally Authorized Tax Practitioners," or "FATPs". The FATP status is granted to attorneys, Certified Public Accountants, Enrolled Agents, Enrolled Actuaries, and to persons in a few other categories.
Enrolled Agents, like other FATPs, are subject to a set of procedures and regulations described in Treasury Department Circular No. 230, Regulations Governing the Practice of Attorneys, Certified Public Accountants, Enrolled Agents, Enrolled Actuaries, and Appraisers before the Internal Revenue Service[4] (or Circular 230). FATPs are allowed to represent taxpayers in all proceedings before the Internal Revenue Service including audits and appeals.

Practice in the United States Tax Court
Enrolled Agent status does not automatically allow the enrollee to practice before the United States Tax Court. That practice is limited to members of the Bar of the Court. The Internal Revenue Code states that "no qualified person shall be denied admission to practice before the Tax Court because of his failure to be a member of any profession or calling." Bar membership for non-attorneys requires that the applicant pass a Tax Court examination. Attorneys are admitted to the Bar of the Tax Court without having to take the examination.
Practice before the United States district courts, bankruptcy courts, courts of appeal, and Supreme Court of the United States is limited to attorneys.

Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer
accountants6If you pay someone to prepare your tax return, choose that preparer wisely. Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their own tax returns even if prepared by someone else. So, it is important to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare personal returns.  Most return preparers are professional, honest and provide excellent service to their clients. Here are a few points to keep in mind when someone else prepares your return:
  • A Paid Preparer is required by law to sign the return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. The preparer should also include their appropriate identifying number on the return. Although the Preparer signs the return, you are responsible for the accuracy of every item on your return. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of the return. Review the completed return to ensure all tax information, your name, address and Social Security number(s) are correct. Make sure that none of these spaces is left blank.

  • Review and ensure you understand the entries and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign.Never sign a blank return, and never sign in pencil.

  • If you have provided specific authorization in a power of attorney filed with the IRS, you may have copies of notices or refund checks mailed to your preparer or representative; but only you can sign and cash your refund check.

  • A Third Party Authorization Check Box on Form 1040 allows you to designate your Paid Preparer to speak to the IRS concerning how your return was prepared, payment and refund issues and mathematical errors.

It’s important for taxpayers to find qualified tax professionals if they need help preparing and filing their tax returns. Unqualified tax preparers may overlook legitimate deductions or credits that could cause clients to pay more tax than they should. Unqualified preparers may also make costly mistakes causing their clients to incur assessed deficiencies, penalties, and interest. Here are some suggestions to consider when hiring a tax professional:

  • A paid preparer must sign the return as required by law.

  • Avoid preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers. If your returns are prepared correctly, every preparer should derive substantially similar numbers.

  • Beware of a preparer who guarantees results or who bases fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund. A practitioner may not charge a contingent fee (percentage of your refund) for preparing an original tax return.
  • Understand that the most reputable preparers will request to see your receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other items. By doing so they have your best interest in mind and are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest or additional taxes that could result from an IRS examination.

  • Choose a preparer you will be able to contact and one who will be responsive to your needs. Ask who will actually prepare the return before engaging services. Avoid firms where your work may be delegated down to someone with less training or some unknown worker. You should know exactly who works with your tax matters at all times and how to contact him or her; after all, you are paying for it. Determine if the preparer is exporting your return to a foreign country for preparation. Foreign countries do not have the same security and privacy laws as the United States nor is there any recourse should your information be compromised as a result of lax or nonexistent privacy procedures.

  • Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for CPAs, the state’s bar association for attorneys or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents or the oversight agency in states that license or register tax preparers.

  • Determine if the preparer’s credentials meet your needs or if your state mandates licensing or registration requirements for paid preparers. As of 2008, California and Oregon are the only two states that regulate paid tax preparers. Is he or she an Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Tax Attorney? Only attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection actions and appeals. Other return preparers may represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return that they signed as a preparer.

  • Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides or requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.

  • Check for information regarding abusive shelters and other tax schemes and scams. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.

The IRS can help many taxpayers prepare their own returns without the assistance of a paid preparer. Before seeking a paid preparer, taxpayers might consider how much information is available directly from the IRS through the IRS Web site. Check out these helpful links:

  • e-file for Individual Taxpayers

  • Free File

  • Free Tax Return Preparation For You by Volunteers

accountants7Unfortunately, unscrupulous tax return preparers do exist and can cause considerable financial and legal problems for their clients. Examples of improper actions by unscrupulous preparers include the preparation and filing of false paper or electronic income tax returns that claim inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, unallowable credits or excessive exemptions.

Tax evasion is both risky and a crime, punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Remember, no matter who prepares a tax return, the taxpayer is legally responsible for all of the information on that tax return.

Report suspected tax fraud and abusive return preparers by completing Form 3949-A and mailing it or a letter with similar information to:
Internal Revenue Service
Fresno, CA 93888

What is an IRA?


accountants8An IRA, or Individual Retirement Account is an arrangement allowing individuals to save money for retirement in a tax-advantaged manner. You can put practically anything into your IRA—stocks, CDs, mutual funds, cash, bonds—but not options and other derivatives. Anyone who works, whether self-employed or as an employee of a company, can set aside funds in an IRA for the previous tax year.

Traditional IRA Income Limits for 2011
In 2011, the modified adjusted gross income or AGI contribution limits for traditional IRAs were raised.  If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, then your tax-deductible contribution to a traditional IRA is phased-out if:
  • Your filing status is married filing jointly, and your AGI is more than $90,000 but less than $110,000.

    Your filing status is single or head of household, and your AGI is more than $56,000 but less than $66,000.

If your tax filing status is married filing separate returns, then your deductible phase out starts at under $10,000.

SIMPLE IRA Contribution Limits in 2010 and 2011
In 2010, the employer salary-reduction contribution that applies to SIMPLE IRAs remained at $11,500.  For workers that are age 50 and older, your employer can make additional "catch up" contributions of $2,500, bringing the total contribution limit in 2010 for SIMPLE IRAs to $14,000.  In 2011, the employer salary-reduction contribution remains at $11,500, keeping the total contribution limit at $14,000.

Unlike pensions and 401(k) plans, your employer does not run IRAs. Just ask a bank, brokerage, or other financial institution for an application and make a contribution. Your IRA account will grow tax-free until you withdraw the money—generally after you retire. With a traditional IRA, you may even be able to deduct the contribution from your taxable income for the same year the contribution was made.

What is a Roth IRA?

Roth IRAs work differently than traditional IRAs. While you generally deduct contributions to traditional IRAs and pay tax when you withdraw the money, the opposite is true for Roth IRAs. With Roth accounts, you can’t deduct your contributions. But when you retire, you can withdraw both contributions and earnings tax free—your money grows for free. There is no age limit to open a Roth IRA, but there are some income limitations.

2011 Roth IRA Income Limits
From 2010 to 2011, the allowable income limits for making a Roth IRA contribution changed for each tax filing status.
Those Married and Filing Jointly can contribute a maximum of...
  • $6,000 if you're over 50 and your combined earned income is $169,000 or less

  • $5,000 if you're under 50 and your combined earned income is $169,000 or less

  • $0 regardless of age if your combined earned income is more than $179,000

If your earned income is somewhere between $169,000 and $179,000, your 2011 maximum contribution limit phases out.
Those who are filing as Single or Head of Household can contribute a maximum of...
  • $6,000 if you're over 50 and your combined earned income is $107,000 or less

  • $5,000 if you're under 50 and your combined earned income is $107,000 or less

  • $0 regardless of age if your combined earned income is more than $122,000

If your earned income is somewhere between $107,000 and $122,000, your 2011 maximum contribution limit phases out.

2011 Roth IRA Contribution Limits
While the IRS theoretically limits your ability to make a Roth IRA contribution based on your taxable income, anyone can fund a Roth IRA in 2011.

Because in January 2010, Congress abolished the $100,000 adjustable gross income (AGI) limit on Roth IRA conversions. This means anyone, regardless of income, can convert to a Roth IRA.
And since anyone, regardless of income, can make non-deductible contributions to a Traditional IRA - this enables anyone to max out contributions to their Traditional IRA and then convert to a Roth IRA.
This effectively eliminates the Roth IRA contribution income limits for 2011 and all future years.

2011 Roth IRA Maximum Contribution
From 2010 to 2011, the maximum contribution limits for a Roth IRA did not change.
Assuming you qualify to make the maximum contribution, the amounts you can contribute are as follows:
  • $5,000 if you're under age 50

  • $6,000 if you're over age 50

However, keep in mind that these amounts fluctuate according to your personal level of adjustable gross income (AGI). If your income surpasses the established IRS threshold, your max contribution amount phases out.


How Accountants Were Selected

Consumers' Research Council of America has compiled a list of Top Accountants throughout the United States by utilizing a point value system. This method uses a point value for criteria that we deemed valuable in determining top financial planning professionals. 

The criteria that was used and assessed a point value is as follows:



Each year the Accountant has been in practice


A bachelors degree; Minimum of 20 semester units in accounting and business related subjects

Professional Associations: Membership in professional Accounting related associations and/or organizations
Advanced and Continuing Education:
Completing advanced accounting courses of study and meeting all requirements and resulting in receiving a professional accounting designation and/or title.  Completing continuing education classes.

Simply put, Accountants that have accumulated a certain amount of points qualified for the list. This does not mean that Accountants that did not accumulate enough points are not good Accountants. They merely did not qualify for this list because of the points needed for qualification. Since this is a subjective call, there is no study that is 100% accurate. As with any profession, there will be some degree of variation in opinion. If you survey 100 clients using a particular accounting firm on their satisfaction, you will undoubtedly hear that some are very satisfied, some moderately satisfied and some dissatisfied. This is really quite normal.

We feel that a point value system takes out the personal and emotional factor and deals with factual criteria. Wehave made certain assumptions. For example, we feel that more years in practice is better than less years in practice; more education is better than less education and completing a rigorous course to obtain an Accounting designation and certification is better that not having done so.

The Accountants list that we have compiled is current as of a certain date and other Accountants may have qualified since that date. Nonetheless, we feel that this list of Top Accountants is a good starting point for you to find a qualified specialist.

No fees, donations, sponsorships or advertising are accepted from any individuals, professionals, financial institutions, corporations or associations. This policy is strictly adhered to, ensuring an unbiased selection.

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