Should I fire my CPA?

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Q. I’m thinking of firing my CPA, who has done my taxes forever. What’s the best way to look for a new one?

A. Severing a longstanding professional relationship is a difficult process and can be painful for all the parties.

Before you look for a new CPA, carefully review the reasons why you are thinking of taking this step, said Clare Wherley, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with Lassus Wherley in New Providence.

Ask yourself:
• Did your CPA make a mistake (or more than one) on a recent tax return?
• Are you looking for more interaction in terms of suggestions for reducing taxes and he/she doesn’t discusses tax topics with you?
• Do you want more or different services from your CPA and you don’t think they are currently available through your existing firm?
• Perhaps you feel your CPA is getting older and you want to switch now to a younger person who may be more up to date on topics affecting your tax situation?
• Is your CPA working alone and you think someone with more backup would be better?
• Does you CPA always put you on extension and you hate to file late?

Any one of these circumstances or a combination could be a valid reason for finding a new professional, Wherley said.

In the case of tax return errors, it is important to recognize that anyone can make mistakes, Wherley said.

“Today’s tax code is not only complex but huge changes have taken place every year for the last 15 years,” she said. “And each year Congress makes changes so late that the IRS and software companies are under tremendous pressure to make the changes so that returns call be accurately processed.”

She said this past season, most of the changes and updates required were not ready until mid-February, and compounding this problem was that Congress approved later deadlines for financial institutions to provide tax data.

“It is common practice that tax season does not even begin for most people until the first of March,” she said. “Unfortunately, Congress has refused to extend the filing deadline of April 15.”

She said the shortened season puts a tremendous amount of pressure on CPAs to prepare returns quickly.

“If an error is made your CPA should amend the return at no charge to you,” Wherley said. “On the other hand if the error is due to incomplete or inaccurate information provided by you, then you will be billed.”

Also, having your return extended is not a bad thing, she said, especially if it’s complicated. Just don’t allow the final preparation to go past June. Most CPAs want a break after April 15, she said, but should be ready to get back to work sometime in May.

If your CPA has been doing your return for many years, you may not be meeting with him or her anymore. If you’re like lots of taxpayers, Wherley said, you drop off your data and pick up or get your return in the mail.

And if you’re waiting until tax season to have a chat with your CPA about your tax situation, you’re making an error because that’s when the CPA is the busiest, and it may be too late for you to make the changes that could improve your situation.

“It is your responsibility to keep your CPA informed not only of any changes that have happened, but of pending changes,” she said.

Wherley recommends you call your CPA to discuss a meeting, saying fall is a good time, and ask if there is a charge for the meeting.

“Such a meeting would also be a good time to discuss other services he/she might provide — or not — and even concerns about backup or age,” she said. “Most CPAs will not be offended by such a discussion. In fact, it’s a good opportunity to reconnect with a long-term professional.”

It doesn’t have to happen every year, she said, but is a great way to freshen the relationship.

If, after all your efforts, you decide to move, Wherley said the best way to find a new CPA is ask around.

Don’t just ask who someone uses, but why they have a particular CPA. Be sure to get input on a new CPA that covers all your concerns about your existing CPA.

Another good source is to contact the New Jersey Society of CPAs either online or by phone to find a CPA near you that offers services you need, Wherley said.

Then talk to at least three candidates – or more – before making a final decision, she said.

“It’s not just a decision to change,” Wherley said. “It’s a process to establish what will hopefully be a long and rewarding relationship.”

Email your questions to moc.p1585426681leHye1585426681noMJN1585426681@ksA1585426681.

This story was first posted in September 2015.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.