Please help me bargain with my CPA over email
June 5, 2018 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Our tax person is raising their rates this year because the new tax law has made their job a lot more complicated. This seems reasonable to me, but the level of increase (2x) does not. she has strongly hinted that she could give us a better deal if we were not happy with the new price, how do I ask for this better price politely?

I really do not want to switch to a different CPA. She has been so helpful that my husband and I use her name as a shorthand for a person who makes your problems go away.

We talked to her on the phone and she strongly hinted that she could give us a better deal if we were not happy with the new price. Specifically, she mentioned that we have given her a lot of referrals and that we are low maintenance clients who are organized and follow instructions. Because of these hints I will feel like a chump if I don't manage to negotiate a better deal.

Bargaining makes me really uncomfortable and I have no idea what I am supposed to say to unlock this magical discount, especially since I have no intention of following through with leaving her firm if she doesn't give it to us. What is a polite way to ask for her best possible price without being rude and creating tension?
posted by insoluble uncertainty to Work & Money (19 answers total)
Why have you no intention to actually leave if the rates don't get better? Seems like a massive bargaining chip you're leaving on the table, one that could very well lead to better and cheaper service anyway? Either way, I'd try offering a number that's higher than the old rate and much lower than the new rate. If you're as valuable to her as she has said, it may still be profitable for her with your referrals even if she reduced your old rate.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:46 PM on June 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you at least need to know what the competition charge and then think how much of a premium her awesomeness is worth. The best alternative to negotiated agreement. Then you can phrase it as gratitude for service so far, that it's quite a big jump and then ask if she'd be ok with X? Or if you don't want to say a number then could ask if she'd consider a lower price taking into account a loyalty or referral discount, but I feel you still need to have in your mind a figure you'd be happy with.
posted by JonB at 2:47 PM on June 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

If she hadn't raised your rates in a while, that might be part of her equation.

I am finding it harder and harder to find tax professionals for "regular" people- the good ones are retiring right and left- so I recommend you find someone else before you decide to fire her, which it doesn't sound like you plan to do.

I suppose you could find out what other people would charge you for the same work and then add a premium on top of that for her skill level.

(Also, if you are self employed this new tax bill really adds time to people's returns.)
posted by small_ruminant at 3:01 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Tax professional, first I want to thank you again for all you have done for us in the past and reiterate that we are more than satisfied with your work. Second, we totally appreciate that your costs have gone up due to changes in the tax laws, etc. We will gladly pay an amount more than last year, but we feel that 2x last year is more than we can in good faith pay. We think it appropriate based on our mutual relationship that we split the difference and pay you 1.5x last year. Certainly, we can address this again next year if necessary. Sincerely insoluable uncertainty."
posted by AugustWest at 3:09 PM on June 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

"We really value your service, but the price increase this year is steep. If we continue to organize our documents and follow instructions so you can work efficiently, would you consider giving us a discount?"

Since you're not leaving anyhow, you can just ask without a figure in mind. She likely has a set discount % she's willing to give to good clients who ask about it.
posted by momus_window at 3:10 PM on June 5, 2018 [16 favorites]

I am finding it harder and harder to find tax professionals for "regular" people- the good ones are retiring right and left- so I recommend you find someone else before you decide to fire her.

A decade ago, the guy I used to go to for annual CPE was telling people routinely that they OUGHT to be doubling their rates because the rate of retirement is hitting the point where everybody's swamped and things just keep getting more and more complicated. (He's popular enough that she might be going to the same guy's seminars. I wound up seeing him in two different states.) But if you're good, organized clients, she'll have reason to want to keep you around even at the lower rate. I'd just mention that the big increase is a hardship but you really like her so you don't WANT to look elsewhere, ask her to help you out, see if she comes back with an offer instead of expecting you to make one.

It's not rude at all. The rude people are the ones who come back after they get their bills and shout. Don't raise your voice, obviously. If you still feel comfortable recommending her to people even at the new price range, even if you aren't able to pay it yourself, I'd mention that. But like, you guys know each other. She knows you aren't a big wheeler-dealer type, I'm sure. Don't stress too much about it, just ask what she can do to help you out. You don't need to threaten to fire her at this point, just stress that you WANT to stay her clients, she's smart enough to know what that means.
posted by Sequence at 3:11 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is totally cool to do, but it's also cool not to do. If you can afford it easily, I'd encourage you not to negotiate. As a consultant myself, it can be hard to raise one's rates, and if you feel the quality of the service is commensurate with the new rate AND you can afford it, I wouldn't say anything.

However, it's also totally great to negotiate if you want! I love when long-term clients negotiate - and when they don't put NOT using my services on the table. This would be my script: "Thank you for informing us of the new rates. We're so grateful for your support and expertise and totally understand the need for the rate increase. I'm wondering if it would be possible to adjust the increase downward at all? It is higher than is in our allotted budget for this, and would be very grateful for any flexibility. For example, would it be possible to do [1.5x old rate]? Totally understand if not, we're grateful as always for your time and assistance!"

My tip - avoid commenting on the rate increase ("that's a large increase for us!" "that feels steep") - it can add bitterness to the negotiation. I'd also avoid praising yourself as clients ("we're easy" or "we've given you so many referrals") — she already knows that and if she can she'll consider it when you're negotiating.

Just be like, hey you're awesome, love working with you, is there any flexibility in the new rate?
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 3:26 PM on June 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

My accountant gives me a percentage discount for each referral I send him; if you've sent a lot of people to him, perhaps count how many and consider asking for a discount reflecting that number?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:01 PM on June 5, 2018

It depends on to what extent your return is actually impacted by the tax bill. If you're potentially eligible for the 20% deduction for certain flow-through business income, for example, that's a really complex and uncertain area right now and worth the extra charge, IMO. On the other hand, if you're no longer going to be itemizing deductions because of the higher standard deduction, that would make your return less complex and be a factor in your favor when negotiating the fee.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:25 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

If your goal is to minimize what you pay, don't make your first offer the top of what you're willing to pay. If that's 1.5x, initially offer 1.25x, etc. Otherwise, she may counteroffer, say, 1.75x, and you are stuck with no wiggle room.

That may not be your goal in this situation, though.
posted by praemunire at 4:56 PM on June 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ask her if there’s any wiggle room, and then suggest something that would help her out with in exchange. Maybe something like paying in advance or paying quickly would be a good trade for a discount.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:08 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would put the ball in her court. Say something like "We really value your work and We try to be good clients - prompt and well organized and we have been happy to recommend you to others. We want to pay you a fair fee, however, this price increases is a huge jump. Is there something in-between last year's rates and a doubling of the fee that would work for you without straining out budget so much?

If you like her price, accept it. If not, ask if there is anything you can do, like taking an early date for doing your return or paying upfront that might make it worth an additional discount.
posted by metahawk at 6:26 PM on June 5, 2018

The most important question here, in my mind, is whether the 2x rate is commensurate with market or not. Said another way, if you were a prospective client and the accountant quoted the 2x rate, would you consider it? That should frame your negotiation strategy, which could be anywhere from "do nothing" to "find another accountant." In short, I would base my ask/counter proposal on what a theoretical competitor would charge (and say that in your email). I just memailed you some price ranges based on my experience to give you a starting point.
posted by kovacs at 6:58 PM on June 5, 2018

Specifically, she mentioned that we have given her a lot of referrals and that we are low maintenance clients who are organized and follow instruction

This doesn't sound to me like someone who is hinting that you can negotiate them down. It sounds like someone who is trying to ease the transition to a higher price and expressing their appreciation for you as a client.

Clients in pretty much every field can get really horrible when you increase your prices; I wouldn't assume these types of comments are barganing chips.

I'm not saying that it is a bad idea to try and negotiate, just that you shouldn't feel compelled to based on this alone.
posted by windykites at 7:37 PM on June 5, 2018

Whoever says a number first loses*

*Not always true, but money negotiations often go that way. While I don’t always follow that, I always find it useful to think about.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:19 PM on June 5, 2018

The CPA has already mentioned a number.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:54 AM on June 6, 2018

It sounds like she's gotten busier and she wants to reduce the number of clients she has without firing them herself.

Agree to find out what the going rate is in your area, and then ask her if there is any flexibility. You can make a decision from there.
posted by vignettist at 8:22 AM on June 6, 2018

Is this personal or business CPA? The new personal tax laws may make the tax laws more complex for 1 year, but after that it makes them simpler unless you are well into the 'high net worth' category. I'm going to ask my personal CPA for a lower bill next year.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:44 AM on June 6, 2018

I know you already got a best answer for this, but my first thought when I read this was whether she was a solo practitioner or part of a larger firm. If she's part of a larger firm who has raised their rates, she may well be hinting to you that she has some flexibility in this increase that is being imposed, to her clients that push back.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:35 PM on June 6, 2018

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