In Defense of the CPA

In Defense of the CPA

Are there advantages to using a CPA?

I haven’t disclosed this much on the blog, but I’m actually a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). I used to work in a CPA firm back in my 20s. Filing taxes was a part of the annual routine.

While I haven’t been a “practicing” CPA for several years now, I’m actually going to be doing some taxes this year to supplement our income. I’ll be lending my services to a family member’s CPA firm. I’m looking forward to getting back into the work and learning a few things along the way.

On my mind lately has been the reasons why having a CPA do your taxes is important. Why it matters, and for who, is what I’m going to try and explain below. I realize this may come across as self-serving. My apologies before hand.

Why Use a CPA to Prepare Your Taxes

Licensing - Practicing CPAs are licensed through their particular state. In order for the CPA to maintain this license, he/she must generally do 2 things: complete continuing education (e.g. take a course on the latest tax deductions) and run his/her business according to specific standards.

These standards provide assurance to you that you’re getting a quality service. If you ever have a question about your CPAs legitimacy, contact your state’s board of public accountancy and request information about your CPA.

Consistency and Stability- A CPA is going to be there for you year after year. Practicing CPAs are in it for the long run.

Doors are Always Open – A CPA performs many types of financial services, not just taxes. Therefore, their doors are always open for tax questions, tax planning, and for any audit help you may need. Other tax preparation services are going to close their doors from May to December. Who’s going to help you when you get that audit letter? A CPA can.

Record Retention- A CPA is going to maintain your tax information much like a doctor holds on the patient’s medical records. A CPA will act as your own personal filing cabinet through the years. You’ll even get your own copy of the return and supporting documents in a nice little folder for you to file away yourself if you want. Digital is also becoming more prevalent.

Tax Planning – The best part about having a CPA is the tax planning advice he can provide throughout the year. There are certain year-end tax moves you can make each year that will save you hundreds in tax dollars. Software and tax preparation companies aren’t around to help you with those things.

Professionalism - Like I mentioned above, a CPA is licensed with the state. They’ve gone through a ton of accounting classes, a tough exam, and must maintain continuing education credits each year. Only a person who wants to be a professional is willing to go through what it takes to be a CPA. Of course, CPAs are still just people. But I’ll take the CPA designation over any other for tax filing purposes.

Your Time – The last good reason I’ll give you is your time. I’m not going to lie and say that you won’t have to spend a little time preparing your tax files to bring to a CPA. But they will save you the time it takes to enter in all the information, and file the return. And each year it gets quicker as you’ll learn what to bring to your CPA.

When Not to Use a CPA

Generally speaking, you don’t need to use a CPA if you’ve got a simple return. If you only file a 1040EZ, or if you file a 1040, but take the standard deduction, a CPA wouldn’t be necessary. There are plenty of free tax filing services that you can use to quickly prepare and e-file your taxes. I’ve actually used free tax software to file my own taxes for the past 6 or 7 years. Only now, when I’ve got some small business details, will I rely on the second eye of a practicing professional.

What Not to Use: Tax Prep Services

I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to spend money to have someone do your taxes, take them to a CPA. Every place else is going to be a crap shoot when it comes to the level of professionalism. Tax preparer IRS penalties are high, but they aren’t the deterrent that losing your license would be. If you are going to use other services, please make sure they have some standards (like H&R Block) and do a background check with the better business bureau.

Information for this post was provided by Larry G. Taylor, CPA, a CPA in Branson, MO. Larry provides tax, financial, and investment services. Visit www.larrytaylorcpa.com for more information.



Last Edited: May 13, 2013 @ 1:29 pm
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a husband and father of two. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or view the Philip Taylor+ Google profile.

Comments

  1. Under your section on professionalism, you say you’d rather take the CPA designation over any other for tax filing. I’d say a better designation would be an Enrolled Agent. They’re tested specifically on tax laws/rules only and are certified according to IRS standards. They know their stuff when it comes to taxes, probably more than the average CPA since CPAs are tested on a wider variety of topics.

    I’d also say using a CFP who prepares taxes would be better than going to a tax prep service (like Jackson Hewitt). They’d offer you some of the same benefits as CPAs (i.e., they’re open year-round). But I’m on my way to becoming a CFP so I’m probably biased. ;)

  2. Ah the great debate of CPA v. EA. I’ve seen each equally good and equally not so great over the past 30 years. Regardless of which designation you think is best for you, the real sign of either a CPA or EA that is really ‘on your team’ is the one that makes sure you yourself participate with them in your tax preparation and tax planning. It is our job as professionals to make sure our clients at least have the knowledge to known when they would pick up that phone to check the tax consequences before major financial moves.

  3. @Paul – Thanks for the info on the enrolled agent. I guess if the CPA is also an Enrolled Agent then you have double assurance. Congrats on going for the CFP.

  4. Jo/Gaelicwench says:

    There’s no need to defend CPAs; there are very many professionals out there with whom I would entrust doing my taxes. Goodonya for using your current skills as a form of income.

    I would much prefer going to a CPA to do my taxes over a company such as H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt (unless it was my ex who’s been employed by JH). CPAs will certainly charge a pretty penny for his services, but at least you know where you stand with him. After the debacle with the two abovementioned pushing for immediate “loans” against one’s tax refund, and to try and get you the biggest refund possible by claiming deductions that don’t apply, it’s made me very “shy” about going to them.

    As far as what to call yourself, to me it’s all politically correct blither blather. The fact that your credentials are up to date, you’re honest and you believe in continuing “edumacation” speaks volumes enough.

    Good luck, my friend!

  5. Zach Younkin says:

    Very good information to know as I am in the process of working toward my accounting degree with the hopes of ending up with a CPA as well.

    Who knows, maybe we can even start our own tax firm, PT?

  6. That’s great, Zach. Getting the CPA was tough for me, but I stuck with it. Persistence pays off. Younkin, Taylor, and Assoc? :)

  7. Zach Younkin says:

    I still have two years or so until I graduate with my degree, but I hope to get my CPA shortly after I graduate.

    Younkin, Taylor, and Assoc has a good ring to it :)

  8. For those looking to use a licensed preparers such as a CPA or EA, I’d encourage you to verify the credentials of the tax preparer, even if you used the same preparer from last year. You can go online to the state boards of accountancy if they are a CPA or the NAEA or IRS if they are an EA to verify this information.

  9. Dude, you were a CPA? I had no idea. You should be busting out some serious tax posts :) Being a CFP, the only other designation I would want to have is the CPA. Taxes and investing go hand in hand and I would love to have the knowledge that my accountant has. Then again, instead of going to the trouble of taking the exam, I can just call him and get the answer :)

  10. This was a really well-written article. I mentioned some similar facts on my own website. What a lot people don’t realize is that there are many CPA firms that charge about the same as most tax preparers (we’re one of them) so why do people still seem to flood H&R Block? I think it’s general unawareness.

  11. There are some really interesting points posted by all here. To start off, let me state that I’m a CPA practicing in NY and have experience in both tax and audit. I believe that many people are under the misconception that CPAs are just mere tax preparers. Although taxes are big part of being a CPA, the CPA license allows a practicing CPA to perform services that is only reserved for a CPA. Such services can’t be performed by an EA, CFP or just any accountant. These include attestation and assurance services, which relate to financial statements. This is where CPAs who provide these services may charge a pretty penny for and reasonably so, given the rigorous training and Continuing Education they must undergo. However, a lot of CPAs specialize in tax as it is the “necessary evil” and are even an integeral part of the financial statements they provide attestation services for. Just like doctors, attorneys, dentists, CFPs, EAs, CFAs, or any other professionals, CPAs specialize in different areas of the business, they include various areas of taxation and different industries. Depending on the complexity and your unique tax situation, it is wise to seek out the specialty of your potential CPA or tax preparer. Of course I’m not talking about the 1040EZ or even the simple 1040 filer, I’m talking about the person who wants advice on the best way to structure their new business venture, or the person who has multiple S-corps, LLCs, LPs etc. and has jobs in two different states and has foreign income… you get the idea… This is where you’ll reap the benefits of hiring a CPA, who will not only be your tax preparer, but your consultant to various and complex business matters. If anyone needs advice or assistance with their tax situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll try my best to help you and if I can’t, I’ll point you in the right direction!

    -Riz

  12. pete price says:

    I just came across this brilliant CPA, Lou Patten in Lake Worth, Florida. After searching for help with my taxes for years, I’ve finally found exactly what I needed. He’s affordable and handled my taxes personally.  I highly recommend him.  Here’s his website http://www.loupattencpa.com