Why am I having trouble hiring an accountant?
December 8, 2016 12:46 PM   Subscribe

After years of an entirely normal relationship with my accountant -- meaning, we go in once a year and do our taxes -- we had a problem arise. I haven't been able to get our accountant to help, nor even return my emails/calls, for over a month. I dropped him & set out to find a new accountant. None will return my calls. Am I asking for something crazy? Help.

So, here's the deal:

-- We have a totally uncomplicated financial situation.

-- We thought we had a fine relationship with our accountant.

-- Got a letter from the IRS questioning a 1099 from last year's taxes. (Short version: the 1099 we reported is correct; I've spoken to the issuer and they agree it's correct; neither of us have any idea why the IRS would be questioning it; but clearly an accoutant will have to correspond with IRS to clarify)

-- Tried to get in touch with current accountant and utterly failed. Multiple emails, calls went unreturned. I spoke to the receptionist & a junior accountant who all said "He'll call you back" but he didn't. After literally one month I wrote and said he had to get in touch or we'd move to a different firm. He didn't respond, so we need to find someone new.

-- Asked friends with very similar profession/income levels (colleagues of Mr. BlahLaLa) who they recommended. Got names of 3 accountants.

-- Have spent the last week calling each (only once) and briefly saying, "We're looking for a new accountant to do our taxes and also help us with a current IRS problem."

Nobody is calling me back.

What don't I understand about accounting/accountants? Why isn't anybody calling me back? I mean, they could each have flaky practices but it seems coincidental that they all do. Is there something weird about me saying this? Is "we have to respond to an IRS notice" something that's scaring them off?

All of this is happening in Los Angeles, if that makes a difference.
posted by BlahLaLa to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't help with the accountant bit, but the IRS bit:

Have you called the IRS yourself? I got a notice about weird discrepancy on my tax return one year in which they didn't think I had correctly reported some of my income. I checked my return and yes, i had correctly reported it, so I called them and the man I spoke with said the error was on their end. Someone didn't click a checkbox or something.

It's worth reaching out to the IRS and saying it looks like the documents you have are correct, could they double check the information in their system.
posted by INFJ at 12:58 PM on December 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

maybe see if Mr Blahlalah's friends who suggested their accountants to you would be willing to do an email introduction instead of having you cold contact these prospects yourself? some of it may be timing, it is almost the holidays and most tax folks are insanely busy from Jan-June. Also a lot of people will just be at capacity and not taking new clients - but they may be willing to talk to you at the specific request of an existing good client.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:07 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with INFJ, get in touch with the IRS yourself. I have had better luck going to our local IRS office than with calling. Recently when I called, they basically said 'Hand up and try again later".

MeMail me if you want to talk about your accounting.
posted by Altomentis at 1:07 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you just need to make a copy of the 1099 and send it to the IRS. Maybe it was accidently not attached? Or maybe it was e-filed and they just want to the hard copy for some random reason?
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:31 PM on December 8, 2016

I can't begin to tell you how easy it is to call the IRS and deal with something simple like this. Just call them!
posted by jbenben at 1:33 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would just call the IRS and try to sort it out with them if its super simple.
Accountants are just starting to get crazy busy, and tacking on "and a current IRS problem" at the end of your messages is probably getting you red flagged as a client that they might not have the bandwidth to take on right now. See if you can settle the IRS issue yourself, and have one of your friends do an email introduction for a new accountant
posted by zara at 1:35 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have spent the last week calling each (only once) and briefly saying, "We're looking for a new accountant to do our taxes and also help us with a current IRS problem."

November and December are the little gasp of free time before you head into a year-end and quarter-end and then into tax season. The one that went a month without a response was out of line, but when you have a non-emergency situation and it's the time of year when a lot of people have a lot of scheduled continuing education and vacations, you're going to be getting slower responses right now.

I'd suggest being less brief: You're looking for a new accountant because your old one has gone silent and you got a notice and this is precisely what the notice says and you need to know what to do about it. If there's a deadline on the notice or if they're threatening action as far as collection or whatever, make sure they have that info.

The "and to do our 2016 taxes in a few months" part should be assumed, it doesn't need to be stated right now. You are not currently hiring someone to do your 2016 taxes. You're hiring someone to deal with an IRS notice. If they handle that well, then you'll hire them to do your 2016 taxes. These are separate engagements, so make sure they know which one you're hiring them for right now.

I think the CPAs themselves will generally know that "current IRS problem" is something that warrants more attention, but the receptionist or answering service or the junior who's actually in the office because of lack of vacation time won't necessarily be triaging appropriately.
posted by Sequence at 1:51 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Either way your accountant's behavior was unprofessional and unacceptable, and you should file a complaint with the relevant state licensing board. I'd go further badmouthing them myself. Did you pay for audit insurance?
posted by spitbull at 1:52 PM on December 8, 2016

Also should say that I don't mean to say you shouldn't also try the IRS yourself if you want to sort this out on your own, if you're comfortable doing that! Just that there are better strategies to getting a response from a CPA firm at this time of year that you might try if you decide to go that route.
posted by Sequence at 1:52 PM on December 8, 2016

Response by poster: Appreciate the advice so far. Also, I am definitely saying to each of the new accountants, "We were referred to you by XX."
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:58 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

None of this that you're trying seems horribly eccentric or strange. I work with our firm's CPA and would not accept more than a day or two's delay in getting a call returned as a retainer client.

I find with CPAs that most of them are not concerned with practice building, not aggressive about looking for work, and seem to have all of it they can handle. Kind of like doctors, kind of like lawyers used to be. Another thing that can be hard to crack the code on, but it sounds like you made the right attempt when you asked friends with similar size businesses - CPAs prefer to work with certain types and sizes of business but won't ever come out and say "we work with larger clients than you." Right now I have a personal friend who works for a larger CPA firm who promised to re-contact me about a matter that my current CPA isn't quite sure about - he'll probably remember to call me about February of 2018. I'll always be that thing to do in his spare time for him.

Difficulty of this time of year in seeking a NEW CPA is also, in addition to the holidays themselves, the fact that current clients are getting into that "let's make transactions happen in 2016 to lighten our tax load" mode and bugging their CPAs a lot.

I might suggest RIGHT after January 1 to try to hit some more up. Like, start calling some on January 3. Yes, tax season is coming, but apart from some payroll work that they make the staff do anyway (sending out W2s and 1099s), very little is going on. Tax season makes accountants crazy busy not because it's 3.5 months of work, but because most clients procrastinate about givign their accountants the work so they can make a start. So it really goes crazy late February/early March and from then until April 15, after which there's a lull and we're off on another cycle to the Oct. 15 extension deadline - it never ends, really....

I'd also Nth the idea of - just. call. the. IRS. Everyone's terrified of them and really among gov't bureacracies they are among the easiest to work with. I'd rather call the IRS than go to the DMV, for the most part. And yeah, you do not want to call a CPA and mention a problem that you need help with the IRS on in the first call...
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:16 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Instead of asking for a call back just schedule an appointment.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:45 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Everyone's terrified of them and really among gov't bureacracies they are among the easiest to work with."

This is so true.
posted by teatime at 12:54 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to follow up:
-- Our original accountant never did bother responding to any of my attempts at communication. I did what I thought was right in this situation, meaning I contacted several friends & aquaintances who use his services and let them know that he might be a nice tax guy but he won't be around if the IRS comes calling.
-- I did approach the IRS on my own. I wouldn't say it was easy -- spent a lot of time on hold, got transfered multiple times to different departments, then spoke to two advisors who didn't have a lot of help to offer me. But I did write a letter explaining my side of the situation. Haven't heard back from them yet.
-- I'm planning on just calling one of the new accountants and making an appointment to do our taxes.
Thanks for the help!
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:45 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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