How to Choose and Use a CPA
Certified Public Accountants offer sound and experienced advice. Whether you need someone to help with your tax planning or more in-depth counseling, CPAs are experts that can assist you with all your financial needs.
What Can a CPA Do for You?
- Estate Planning
- Financial Planning
- Information Technology
- Non-Profit Accounting
- Tax Preparation
Choosing a CPA
To find the right CPA for you, ask for recommendations from family, friends and business associates, especially individuals who work in your field. Ask them about the quality of the CPA’s work, responsiveness to questions, and ability to complete work in a timely manner.
Don't rush to hire the first CPA with whom you speak. Contact several candidates by phone and ask them to discuss their qualifications. If they don't have time to give you an interview, they may be equally unresponsive to questions and concerns.
Evaluate Standards and Experience
When speaking with a CPA, ask them for background information.
- Where did they go to school?
- In what areas of financial consulting do they specialize?
- Are they a Certified Public Accountant? (Not all accountants are CPAs)
- How long have they been in business?
- Who are their clients? Call these clients to see if they are satisfied with the service they’ve received.
- Are they a member of the Illinois CPA Society or other professional organizations?
- Where and when did they receive their certification?
- Are they licensed?
- Do they regularly participate in Continuing Professional Education?
- What is their fee range?
- Should you receive what you think may be professionally unethical service from a member of the Illinois CPA Society, you can file an ethics complaint with the Society's Ethics Committee which will investigate the situation.
You have rights as a client -- use them.
Ask About Fees
When interviewing a prospective CPA, be sure to ask about the fee structure. Some will charge on an hourly basis, others on the number of forms to be completed, and still others will give you a fixed price. How your records are organized will have an effect on the fee structure.
Don't let the fee structure alone affect your selection of a CPA. An individual who charges more, but has a reputation for quality work, may help you to avoid costly mistakes and save you more money in the long run.
CPA v. Accountant
A CPA is someone who has passed the Uniform CPA Examination. There is a vast difference between a CPA and an accountant. A CPA has passed a very difficult examination and is certified in the state. An accountant is an individual who practices accounting but has not passed the CPA exam. In order to get the most qualified and professional service, choose a CPA.
Obtaining the CPA designation means commitment and achievement. The Illinois Public Accounting Act currently requires candidates for the CPA exam to have completed 150 semester hours of acceptable credit approved by the Illinois Board of Examiners, including at least a bachelor's degree with a concentration in accounting. Courses must include accounting, auditing and taxation. Once an individual passes the Uniform CPA Examination, they are certified within the state.
Although passing the exam provides an individual with the CPA certification, it does not grant the right to hold oneself out as a “CPA” in Illinois or provide attest services (audits and reviews). In order to provide attest services in Illinois, the individual must obtain a license from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. To obtain a license, an individual needs an Illinois CPA certificate and one year of work experience. To maintain the license, the CPA is required to complete 120 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) every three years including four hours of ethics training. Note: individuals who obtain the CPA Credential but do not wish to provide attest services must become registered to hold themselves out to be a CPA in Illinois. See “registration” below for more information.
The purpose of the CPE requirement is to ensure that the CPA maintains current levels of knowledge as it relates to CPA activity, as well as their area of expertise. This credit is obtained by attending classes, conferences or workshops from CPE sponsors who are registered with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The Illinois CPA Society is one of the leading sponsors of CPE in the state.
Actively Registered CPAs may use the "CPA" designation, cannot perform "public accounting" services as currently defined in the law, do not have a CPE requirement and are not exempt from the IRS requirements for the Registered Tax Return Preparer designation (exam and education requirements).The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation stopped accepting new applications for the "Registered CPA" category on June 30, 2012. All active registrations as of June 30th will be grandfathered and renewable for life.
The Illinois CPA Society is the state professional association, representing more than 22,000 members. As members of the Illinois CPA Society, CPAs are bound by professional ethical standards to give you sound and unbiased advice. The purpose of the Illinois CPA Society is to support and promote the work of CPAs throughout the state. Every state has an equivalent organization for their state's CPAs and, in addition, many CPAs are members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in New York, which is a national professional association.
Since 1988, AICPA members in public practice are required to participate in a practice-monitoring program as a condition of membership. These programs represent the accounting profession's desire to enhance the quality of accounting and auditing work. No other profession has made a commitment to this type of self-regulation as a way of maintaining the highest possible standards of quality. When selecting a CPA, make sure that the practitioner or firm is committed to quality by participating in either peer or quality review.
You can use the ICPAS FIND A CPA directory to locate a CPA who provides the services you need.