Tips on finding a good accountant?
August 6, 2004 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Anyone have any tips on how to find a good accountant (especially for moonlighting consultants)? More >>

I used an accountant for the first time earlier this year, for my 2003 returns because they were so complicated and I'm not sure if I picked someone that was any good (it was a local, independent one I picked out of the phonebook). I ran through my own taxes real quick on TurboTax before I met with her, and it appeared that I would owe about X dollars, and after I paid her $500 to prepare my returns it turned out I actually owed about 3X dollars to the federal and state tax boards.

I don't want to find a shady accountant, but I feel like I should not have paid as much tax as I did last year. My primary concern is that I make some 1099 money on the side which I always fear and save at least a third of for taxes, but the tax amount last year was even more than every penny I made in 1099s (the tax problems were elsewhere).

I'm looking for an accountant that can give me tips on how to save when collecting and declaring consulting fees, and I know that's a tough balance between that and someone exploiting so many loopholes I end up in an audit. Does anyone know any tips on how to spot potential accountants on either side of the fence? I feel like going through the rest of the phonebook's accountant listings, but if I had a few questions I could ask that would give answers I could judge them on, it'd help me find someone that meets my needs.

I could also use an accountant to answer a bunch of questions about when to do things like start an LLC, and how to keep that from being another tax problem, etc. What's a typical hourly rate for talking to an accountant for advice? I insisted on paying my accountant for some meetings we had, but she never charged me for them, but then she never gave me useful advice or answered my questions fully (I did have some questions about an arcane new tax rule and ended up sending her PDFs from the motley fool that explained the rules).
posted by mathowie to Work & Money (3 answers total)
Working Today tries to be a resource on a lot of this stuff for freelancers/consultants.
posted by LairBob at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2004

Best answer: Matt, the year I first went with an accountant I took a big hit too, largely from the 1099s, partly because there was a city-specific tax I had been supposed to be paying all those years but wasn't. My accountant patiently explained that I had the option of continuing to ignore it and hoping it wasn't caught, but it was clear he wasn't actually going to let me get away with this, and he let me pretend it was my decision to come clean. Every year afterward, though, and especially since buying a house, having an accountant has more than paid for itself in refunds (more) and agita (almost eliminated).

As to your how-to-find question, I'm not much help, as I had known the guy back when he announced his dream to go to CPA school and become an accountant. I'd recommend him, but he is, of course, way over here on the east coast.
posted by soyjoy at 1:16 PM on August 6, 2004

Best answer: Do you have any colleagues in your area that have accountants? My girlfriend started her own LLC this year, and found her accountant through a friend of ours who's also operating a small business.

I can't speak to the kinds of questions you'd need to ask, but it sounds like you have a clear idea of what you want. I'd recommend either asking around in your area or start cold-calling the phone book and telling them what you're looking for.

As for us, we found a guy that's willing to accept trade and work with the nuances of a cash business.
posted by rocketman at 2:31 PM on August 6, 2004

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