Personal Finance

How Can a CPA Help Me?

Who needs a CPA?

A CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is a personal financial planner, a management consultant, a management information specialist, a business consultant, and more. 

  • CPAs act as advisers to individuals, businesses, financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies on a wide range of financial matters. Today, many individuals turn to CPAs for help with both their tax preparation and personal financial planning.
  • Increasingly, people rely on CPAs for assistance in building college funds, planning for retirement, and creating estate plans.
  • Business owners and managers of various for-profit and nonprofit organizations have traditionally depended on CPAs for auditing services and advice on developing effective accounting systems, maximizing operating results, and resolving various management problems. In addition, CPAs assist businesses in designing and installing data processing and management information systems.
  • CPAs also serve in management at companies of all sizes. As corporate managers, they perform many of the same services that outside CPAs do. They also bring special expertise and insight to management issues, helping to reengineer company finance functions, structure transactions for the capital markets, manage employee benefit plans, and prepare and analyze financial and operational information for management decision-making. Whether chief financial officer, controller, or head of human resources, CPAs are trusted members of many successful companies' senior management teams.

How do I find a CPA?

One of the best ways to find a CPA is to ask friends, relatives, neighbors, or business associates for recommendations. Try to focus on those people who are in a similar financial situation. You might also want to check with other professionals, such as your banker or attorney, your local chamber of commerce, or small business owners whose establishments you regularly visit.

Another option is CTCPA's Find a CPA.  This online service offered by the Connecticut Society of CPAs is a referral service to businesses and individuals interested in finding a CPA in their geographic area who can address their specific requirements. Rates are negotiated between CPA and client. 

What qualifications should I look for in a CPA?

Before you select a tax, accounting, or personal financial adviser, make sure you consider the following questions:

  • Is the individual a certified public accountant?
  • Is the CPA licensed to practice in your state?
  • To what professional organizations does the CPA belong and how active is he or she in those organizations?
  • Are your needs compatible with the CPA's personality and expertise?

Don't underestimate the importance of the CPA designation! 

To earn the CPA designation in Connecticut, accountants must earn a five-year college or university degree with specific course requirements at a school recognized by the Connecticut State Board of Accountancy, pass a rigorous, standardized uniform national examination, successfully complete an ethics examination, and acquire work experience to meet the stringent licensing requirements of the State of Connecticut.

To assure that they stay current on developments in the field and maintain their licenses in Connecticut, CPAs are required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of continuing education each year.

In addition, members of the Connecticut Society of CPAs are obligated to adhere to a code of professional ethics.  Ask the CPA or call CTCPA to find out if the CPA is a member.

Compatibility, another qualification to look for in a CPA, is harder to define but is just as important as technical proficiency. Make sure that the CPA's personality and expertise match your needs.

Keep in mind that a long-term working relationship between you and your CPA can help you take an informed, consistent approach to personal financial and business problems and may help you meet your financial goals.

What do CPAs charge?

CPAs normally base their fees on the time required to perform the services you request. There are no "fee schedules'' common to the profession. Fees depend on the type of services you require, the prevailing costs in the community, the CPA's level of expertise, and the complexity of your work.

Talk frankly with your CPA about fees. Find out how much you will pay to have work performed by a staff accountant who is under the supervision of a CPA, a higher-level employee such as a supervisor, or perhaps even a partner of the firm.

How can you get the most value from a CPA's services?

Although all CPAs meet substantially the same education, training, and licensing requirements, they do not all provide the same range of services. Therefore, when looking for a CPA, you should analyze your current and future financial needs and select someone who can address your particular concerns.

CPAs themselves have some suggestions on how you can make the best use of accounting services and get the most value for your money. Here are just a few of them:

  • Be prepared to discuss your plans and objectives. CPAs are in the best position to advise you and serve your interests when they understand your goals.
  • Gather information about business or personal financial decisions under consideration so you can ask the CPA specific questions.
  • Clearly explain what you expect from the CPA's services.
  • Save yourself unnecessary fees by keeping good records and not using professional time for routine work.
  • Keep your CPA informed of changes in your personal and professional life. A recent marriage or divorce, the birth of a child, a career change, or an especially generous bonus can all have a significant impact on your tax liability and personal financial goals.

Where do CPAs work?

There are the four major areas of accounting in which a CPA can choose to work:

  • Public Accounting
    In public accounting, CPAs work for a firm servicing various clients. Business consulting, tax work, financial planning, accounting, and auditing all fall under public accounting.
  • Education
    Many CPAs choose to continue growing the accounting profession by working in the education field, as teachers, professors, deans, or researchers.
  • Industry
    CPAs in industry work for specific companies or corporations. Careers in industry offer a wide range of potential - be the controller for your favorite sports team, work as an internal auditor of a national corporation, or be part of a team of CPAs charting the financial future of a well-known fashion magazine.
  • Government
    CPAs are needed in all levels of government - federal, state, and local. You can be the financial expert in a governmental agency, or even work for the FBI!

Do CPAs specialize?

Absolutely! New areas or niches in accounting open up all the time. While you may be familiar with CPAs when it comes to taxation, some exciting emerging fields in accounting include:

  • Forensic Accounting
    Forensic accountants focus on providing the detective work needed to investigate and examine evidence of white-collar financial crimes such as embezzlement and fraud. Often they act as expert witnesses in legal proceedings and prepare evidence to be presented in court.
  • Information Technology Services
    Businesses often seek individuals who can design and implement advanced software systems for custom needs. CPAs who possess strong IT skills can work with e-commerce ventures and consult with others to determine what decisions are the most financially and technologically sound for a company.
  • Environmental Accounting
    CPAs involved in environmental accounting look into how companies can be both profitable and environmentally responsible. They can work on everything from environmental compliance audits to preventative systems to ensure compliance and avoid future claims or disputes.
  • International Accounting
    International accountants help businesses function in a new world economy. They have expertise in the areas of international trade rules and regulations, international mergers, government regulations and tax laws, and overseas transactions. CPAs who work in this area very often travel abroad and have multilingual fluency.
  • Assurance Services
    CPAs working in assurance services provide information that is designed to improve the quality of information used in making business decisions. CPAs provide assurance to clients about economic issues in areas such as the integrity of the Internet and online purchasing or advise clients on long-term financial plans for themselves and aging relatives.
  • Entertainment
    In the fast-paced world of entertainment, accounting knowledge is crucial to financial success. CPAs are valuable resources to the music industry, serving as personal consultants to musicians and working with music publishers, promoters, venues, and manufacturers. They can also serve a wide variety of functions in other entertainment outlets such as television and movies, theater, media, fashion, and professional sports.
  • Personal and Financial Planning
    Of the variety of services CPAs provide, a key role is that of business advisor. More and more, people are relying on the advice and knowledge of a CPA to manage their finances most effectively and to keep them from making bad financial decisions. CPAs involved in financial planning provide tax and investment advice, retirement advice, help people start and run businesses, buy homes and plan for college expenses.
  • Not-for-Profit
    Many CPAs make a rewarding career out of working for a cause or group that's meaningful to them. Nonprofit groups don't generate large budgets, so they need to maintain a strict financial balance. A CPA can work from within the organization or as an outside consultant, on anything from assisting in a fundraising campaign to creating a new budget resource.
  • Consulting Services
    Consultants may provide any number of specialty services for a company, including performance management (using broad business knowledge to consult on improving a company's operations, both financial and strategic), corporate financial planning, and the creation of strategy and operations plans for new e-businesses. Often, CPA consultants have their own firms and businesses.

What does a CPA's CTCPA membership mean for me?

It's important to know whether the CPA you're choosing is a member of the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants (CTCPA). Membership in this CPA professional organization is a mark of distinction. It means that the CPA you hire is acutely prepared to meet all your business and financial needs. As a CTCPA member, your CPA must meet stringent professional, technical, and ethical requirements, which include:

  • Peer Review: Members in public practice are subject to rigorous peer review of their accounting and auditing practice on a regular basis.
  • Continuing Professional Education: Members are required to take courses that keep them current on all facets of accounting theory and practice.
  • Code of Ethics: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has established a professional code of ethics and holds members to its strict standard of practice and behavior. Any breach of this code will result in censure by the state society ethics committee and possible license revocation by state boards of accountancy.
  • Information: The CTCPA publishes numerous publications, offers a technical information hotline, and conducts topical conferences and seminars to keep members informed and up-to-date.