When you think about your annual tax responsibilities, you may be concerned about handling the complexity of your tax forms. This is especially true if you run a small business, work as a freelancer or have a “side hustle” in today’s gig economy. If you have investment accounts, inheritance or have made some changes in your life, you may also find your annual tax return to be far more complex.

While online tax software programs have proliferated, even these can be confusing for people who have more complex obligations and deductions for the previous year.

Therefore, like 90 million other Americans, you may turn to professional help to ensure your tax returns are complete, accurate and provide you with the greatest tax savings possible.

You may ask yourself, “What is a CPA? Where can I find a CPA near me?” In addition, you may be concerned about the costs of hiring an accountant or unsure about the total bill that you face at the end. This guide can help you find a certified public accountant to handle your tax returns and provide you with tax planning tips.

What Is a CPA?

A CPA is a certified public accountant. To be designated as a CPA, a financial advisor must pass the CPA exam, a rigorous examination that assesses financial skills and knowledge. CPAs must also keep up with annual requirements to participate in ongoing professional education in order to keep their licenses.

A CPA is a qualified accountant in a licensed profession, and while state requirements can vary, they typically include items like:

  • Passing the uniform CPA exam
  • Receiving ethics education and completing an ethics examination
  • Taking 150 semester units of education in college
  • Working for at least one year in an accounting-related profssion
  • Keeping up continuing education requirements

In some states, non-CPAs can use the term accountant, but other states, like Texas, prohibit people who do not hold the CPA license from referring to themselves by this term. Each state has its own CPA license, but CPAs can become licensed in other states through reciprocity agreements.

Certified accountants can perform services that non-CPAs may not. For example, they can audit public companies, review public company financial statements or issue audit reports. CPAs are also given the right to sign a client’s tax return as a paid preparer, and they can represent clients in front of the IRS in case of an audit.

Why Do You Need a CPA?

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If you work for one employer and just have one IRS Form W-2 each year, you may be able to handle your tax preparation on your own. If you have more complex obligations, however, the professional assurance of a CPA as well as their tax advice can be significant.

There are many potential deductions to help you save on your taxes if you have a small business or perform freelance work. Your 1099 forms may create significant tax obligations, and a CPA can help you find relevant deductions. The same is true if you are a landlord, whether it’s a full-time job or if you bring in some extra money on Airbnb.

If you have been contacted by the IRS in the past, you may want to make sure all of your ducks are in a row. A CPA can look over your documentation to make sure that you have everything you need to claim the relevant deductions or credits.

Your CPA can also help you structure your tax planning to benefit your children and their future, such as when planning to complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or considering opening a 529 account for educational savings.

When you file your taxes, you want to make sure that your information is correct and that you are not paying more than you owe. A CPA has the professional experience to provide you with high-quality advice and help you plan for the future, in addition to making sure that your annual tax returns are accurate.

What To Look for in a Certified Public Accountant

When you’re choosing a certified public accountant, there are some things to keep in mind to help you find the right CPA for your needs. Different CPAs and firms specialize in different types of financial guidance and oversight, so finding the best fit for you can be important. Here are some factors to consider when looking for your CPA:

  • Size of the firm: Large accounting and CPA firms may perform most of their work in public company auditing and other services for large corporations. You may receive advice that is less personalized or pay higher fees to use these big-name firms, and they may only take clients of a certain size. On the other hand, a CPA in private practice can provide more personalized care and attention.
  • Experience with your industry: Make sure that your CPA has worked with other people dealing with the same concerns or industry. If you have a small business or freelance income, you want to make sure you are choosing a CPA who is highly familiar with relevant issues and has worked with others in your circumstances.
  • Range of services: Make sure that your CPA provides the services you need, whether it’s a corporate audit or tax preparation. If you need a CPA to provide an expert valuation of your business, make sure your accountant has the experience to do so.
  • Access and availability: Consider what you need to do to contact your CPA. Will they be able to reply to you within a short period of time? Find out how easy it is to communicate with your licensed CPA, rather than an assistant in the same office.
  • Technology and skills: Find out if your CPA is up-to-date on the latest changes in tax law as well as relevant technology. While software is no substitute for a skilled professional, tech knowledge can differentiate a CPA who can provide highly relevant information for people navigating the digital economy.

How to Find a CPA Near You

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If you’re wondering, “Where can I find a CPA near me?” there are several options that can help you. You can ask friends, family or business associates for their recommendations for a skilled accountant. If you know other small business owners or freelancers near you, you may also inquire about who has been able to help them successfully complete their tax returns.

You can also use a professional association like the American Institute of CPAs. This type of association provides a referral database for CPAs in specific fields. You can also check with your state’s licensing department and use the CPAverify tool provided by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy to check that your accountant’s license is up to date.

We made a nifty CPA locator tool. Find the top accountants in your area by clicking below:

Using an Online CPA

There is an alternative to making an appointment with a local CPA. An online CPA can bring the appointment to you in the convenience of your own home. Picnic Tax provides you with online access to specially screened accountants who can help you complete your taxes online.

You can find out the costs of your needs up front, and all of the CPAs in the Picnic Tax network have been selected due to their knowledge and skill in helping people like you, including freelancers, small business owners and employees, complete their tax returns successfully each year. Picnic Tax matches you with a qualified accountant with knowledge in your field to ensure that you get the best possible results.