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What kind of tax and accounting advisor does my business need?
When looking for a tax and accounting advisor for your business, there are a variety of professionals you might encounter. Make sure you know the key terms to help find the right professional for your needs.
How you could benefit from using a CPA
CPAs or Certified Public Accountants provide a range of tax, accounting, business and financial advisory services. They are often trusted business advisors to management and help a business or individual reach their financial goals. A small business might engage a CPA or accounting firm for:
- Tax planning, strategy, and compliance (all tax types and jurisdictions)
- Management and resolution of tax disputes
- Financial statement review and compilation
- Business valuation
- Cash flow management
- Internal processes and controls
- Outsourced CFO services
CPA licensing state-by-state
CPA licensure is regulated by each state; some states only permit licensed CPAs to use the term accountant, while other states do not restrict use of the generic term. CPAs can only practice in states where they are licensed. CPAs are the only accounting professionals authorized to audit and certify financial statements. CPAs typically must pass a licensing exam and meet requirements regarding undergraduate and/or graduate schooling, good character, ethics, experience, and continuing education. They must also adhere to a Code of Professional Conduct that requires competence, objectivity, integrity, and independence. Resources for finding the best accountant for your business are available here.
An Enrolled Agent (EA) is a tax professional licensed by the IRS to prepare federal individual and business tax returns and represent taxpayers before the IRS regarding collections, audits, and appeals. EAs must pass a licensing exam and meet continuing education requirements. When it comes to federal tax return preparation and practice, EAs are able to provide many of the same services as CPAs and attorneys. Some states also recognize EAs as authorized state tax return preparers. The IRS maintains a directory of federal tax return preparers and EAs.
Certified Financial Planner
The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation is conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., a nonprofit organization, rather than a governmental body. A CFP must meet education and experience requirements and pass a certifying exam (an accelerated licensing path is available for CPAs and attorneys). CFPs typically advise on issues regarding investing, retirement, and succession planning.
A bookkeeper tracks your business’ financial transactions. A bookkeeper’s duties may include managing a general ledger, handling accounts payable and receivable, preparing simple financial statements, payroll, and tax remittances. There is no official certification or licensing of bookkeepers, though many CPAs and other certified professionals offer bookkeeping services. As an organization grows in complexity, it may employ a controller (often a licensed CPA) to provide complex financial statement analysis, prepare budget and financial planning analysis, to supervise internal and external financial reporting, support acquisitions and other transactions, and support financing activities, or may engage an accounting firm to provide these services on an outsourced basis.
A tax attorney is a lawyer whose practice focuses on tax law. Attorney licensing is handled at the state level and, in most cases, requires a J.D. from an accredited law school as well as passing the state bar exam, meeting good character and ethics requirements, and continuing education. Tax attorneys may offer a variety of small business legal services or may focus on just the most complex tax planning and controversy matters, often in tandem with a company’s CPA or in-house advisors. Resources for finding a lawyer are available from FindLaw.
Last Updated: 5/7/2020
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