WHAT IS A CPA AND HOW CAN ONE HELP ME?
Think again if you think all accountants and other business consultants are alike. Those who can call themselves certified public accountants (CPAs) have met stringent requirements for education and experience, must carry out their work in accordance with high-quality technical and professional standards, and must adhere to a strict professional ethics code. Individuals have worked hard to obtain the CPA designation, and they are committed to working even harder to deliver the value that it conveys.
CPAs bring new and diverse value to clients.
As consultants to businesses and individuals, CPAs provide technical expertise, innovative thinking and personal service to help organizations succeed and allow families and individuals to achieve financial protection.
The type and range of services provided by a specific CPA firm will rely on the combination of partners and staff qualifications, interest and experience. Services include, but are not limited to:
Hire a professional or do it yourself?
It's not a difficult task to record your income and expenses (you don't need to have any accounting background or be "good with numbers"), but it takes time and effort. Your personal preference depends on how you do it. You can hire an expert to do it all, do it yourself, or both.
Option 1: Use an expert
If you don't have the time or think your time is worth more than you would pay someone else, you can get professional assistance. When people talk about getting a personal accountant, they often loosely use the term to refer to everybody from a bookkeeper to a CPA or tax preparer or even a tax adviser. Choose the professional that meets your needs:
Bookkeeper. This person can provide concierge services for your personal finances, including paying bills, balancing your checkbook, and reviewing your credit card statements. There may or may not be special training for a bookkeeper. A bookkeeper may obtain certification from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers or complete online training to be certified with QuickBooks.
Accountant. This is a person who has training (and likely a college degree) in accounting and can handle bookkeeping chores.
CPA. This is an accountant who has gained certification from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), with a college degree and, probably a master's degree in accounting. While a CPA can provide bookkeeping services, it may be too expensive for the job for this professional.
Option 2: DIY
Gone are the days of keeping paper ledgers. Today, user-friendly software and cloud solutions are available for the average consumer, not just professionals. The leading options for personal finances are:
Quicken. This software is designed to help you build a monthly budget and track your finances.
Mint.com. This free cloud-based platform also allows you to track and pay online. To simplify your personal finances, it synchronizes with your bank account.
Option 3: Combine your efforts
You can work with a bookkeeper to get your personal accounting started. Search for someone who knows the technology you're going to use. The bookkeeper will set up accounts in which you put your data (which act like folders). You simplify the preparation of tax returns by creating accounts that resemble the same categories used for tax purposes (whether you are doing this or using a paid professional). The bookkeeper can also periodically review your work (e.g., quarterly) to ensure that your income and expenses are properly recorded and that your bank statement is properly reconciled.