10 Questions You Should be Prepared to Answer for a New Client

In today's issue of Ask TaxMama, I have updated an article from many years ago about why a business needs a tax professional. Page 2 of the article included these guidelines to small businesses looking for a tax pro:

1. Does the Tax Pro have the expertise you specifically need? Don’t waste the candidate’s time–or yours–asking about experience s/he may have in fields or areas that aren’t related to your particular business (e.g., If you are a building contractor, or developer, what do you care if the Tax Pro knows the entertainment industry?). Hearing stories may be entertaining, but telling them isn’t necessarily productive.

2. Make a list of questions specific to your enterprise (e.g., You are a trucker –does this person know highway use taxes or the IRS’s allowed per diem rates for transportation workers?).

3. Does the candidate have a degree? (In what? Archaeology? Not very helpful, although we Tax Pros do have to dig.) It would also help if s/he has some understanding of fundamental bookkeeping functions–like the difference between loans and expenses. You’d be amazed at how many tax preparers don’t know how to do a balance sheet or income statement, or even a checkbook!

4. How much experience does s/he have in the industries or areas you care about? I just watched a new Enrolled Agent (an individual licensed by the U.S. Treasury to prepare income tax returns) meticulously prepare tax returns that were technically correct in every way. However, when the same documents were prepared by a more senior agent with industry expertise, client insight, and more practical tax preparation experience, the tax liability was cut in half–and the return was still totally legal.)

5. How much tax audit experience do they have? (This is a trick question. If they brag about how many audits they’ve handled or how good their results are, ask an additional question: How many of the audits were on returns you prepared?) If a Tax Pro’s clients get audited frequently, there is either something wrong with their work OR their clients are in industries targeted by the IRS. Personally, I’d be more comfortable with a Tax Pro who knows how to prepare returns that don’t attract IRS attention.

6. Are they open year-round? Five days a week? If they close frequently, who’s available to cover for them when they’re gone?

7. If they make mistakes, do they fix the return for free? Do they pay any penalties generated by those mistakes? (Don’t ask them to pay your taxes–those would have been due anyway. And don’t expect them to pay your interest – you had the use of the money for that time period.) Do they even know how to amend returns? File corrections?

8. How long has their average client (non-family member) been with them? Can they provide references you can call or visit? (If the Tax Pro has been in business for ten years, why does the average client only stick around for two years?)

9. In addition to tax preparation, can you call them during the year to get planning advice? Retirement planning? Tax reduction ideas? Savings and budgeting assistance? Buying a home? Setting up new businesses or formats (corporations, LLCs, partnerships)?

10. Can they advise you or help you with the operational aspect of your business? (Do they have contacts in your industry? Can they help you network? Are any of their clients successful at least partly because the Tax Pro has helped them succeed?)


Are you prepared to answer those questions? 
Are there other questions you think they should be asking?


This blog

Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.


Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.


Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.


Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".


William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.


Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (www.ubcc.com), a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.


Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.


Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website: www.leveragestateandlocaltax.com
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.


The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.


FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.


Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.


Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.


AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.