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Five Questions to Ask Your CPA

3 minutes Read

By Gene Marks

CPAAs a Certified Public Accountant, I sometimes get asked to go on television and offer tax advice. And that’s nice. Except for the fact that I’m usually asked to give this advice in early April. You know…right before the April 15 deadline. This means that any advice I’m giving in April is totally irrelevant if you expect to use it for last year’s returns. Last year was last year! But this isn’t April. It’s September. And tax advice is really, really relevant now because there are some things you can be doing right now to lower this year’s taxes before the year ends. And your first step is to meet with your accountant. Immediately. And ask him these questions.

1. Do you have a year-end checklist?

Most good accountants provide their clients with a year-end list of documents, receipts and information they’ll need to prepare your returns, as well as due dates. You should get this now. If your accountant doesn’t have it ready yet, it should be ready soon. But in the meantime, you can work off of last year’s. This avoids any surprises. And it gives you time to gather everything together and to avoid a fire drill. It also may open up the opportunity to ask some questions about your information that may lead to your accountant helping you make some moves before the end of the year.

2. Can you review my numbers to date?

Hopefully you’ve been doing a good job keeping your books and records together throughout the year. Hopefully you’re using a good accounting system and have a bookkeeper doing the data entry. Which means that hopefully you’ve got a decent (not perfect) general ledger or even financial statements which you can print out from your accounting software for your accountant to review. Pay him for the extra hour or two he needs to go through your numbers because, trust me, he’ll have questions and have some recommendations that can save you on your taxes many-fold come year end.

3. Can we review my prior year tax returns again?

Maybe you went through this when he filed your return in the spring. Or maybe you just signed it and sent it in, hoping that he got everything right. Even if you did review it earlier, if you’re like me, your memory is not what it used to be. Sit down with your accountant and go through it again. Make sure you understand every line and ask questions if things don’t make sense to you. Your accountant will appreciate this and have more time to spend and be able to focus better on some proactive recommendations for you rather than when he was under the gun churning out returns for all his clients earlier in the year. He may find mistakes and you can amend. Or he may look at your numbers with a different perspective. Reviewing prior year’s returns is the first essential step to preparing and planning for this year’s taxes. And it’s important for you because in the end, they’re your returns, not your accountant’s and you’re going to be the one held responsible by the IRS if anything is wrong.

4. Am I good with my estimated payments?

Hopefully you’ve been making your payments as instructed. Double check this. And double check the numbers again with your accountant. Remember, these are estimates. He took an educated guess at what he thought would be best. Or maybe he just had you pay the same that you paid last year, just to be safe and in compliance. Except that may not be enough. Or too much, depending on how your year has been going. If you’ve been overpaying the IRS, you still have time to cut back on your final estimated payment. The IRS doesn’t pay you interest for money it’s holding on your behalf. It’s your job to pay in the right amount.

5. When will everything be done?

Accountants like me are notorious for our delay tactics. Many have tons of returns to finish and are relying on their clients to get them information. They use missing information for delaying and oftentimes extending returns, just to give themselves more time to complete the work. Unless you’re running a very large or complicated business, there’s little reason why your accountant shouldn’t have all of your business and personal returns done within 30 days of you getting him the information. And you can get him the information he needs within just a few weeks after year end. Sure, you may need to wait for a W-2 or 1099, but you can give him estimated numbers to work with so he can get 95 percent of the work done and then adjust for final numbers when they come in. Nail him down on a delivery date. Get your prior year returns done so things don’t have to linger and you can focus on the year in front of you.


Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

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