You’ve made the decision and chosen a CPA to help you with your financial needs. You’re probably feeling a great deal of relief and satisfaction, because certified public accountants have the expertise to help you with a wide range of financial issues.
If you’ve made an appointment for your first meeting, but you’re not exactly sure what you need to do to be sure you make the most of it, that’s quite common. Your preparation for your meeting will depend greatly on the purpose of your meeting, but here are a few common reasons along with recommendations from the American Institute of CPAs on how to best prepare.
Meeting to prepare for your annual tax filing
This is not an exhaustive list, but it includes the majority of documents that most individuals or couples will want to gather. Your CPA likely has their own list or questionnaire for you to complete, which can be helpful as well. Here are the most common documents you’ll need to enable your CPA to complete your tax filing:
- Your W-2.
- 1099s you may have received for self-employment, interest, investment or other income.
- 1099-G for any unemployment received.
- 1099-SSA for Social Security income received.
- 1099-R for any retirement account distributions.
- Documentation of any other income you received during the year, such as self-employment income, alimony, rental or other payments.
- Paperwork showing tax-deductible expenses, including, but not limited to:
- Mortgage interest (Form 1098)
- State taxes (if paid outside of payroll deductions on your W-2, such as taxes due last year)
- Local property taxes (typically on your 1098, but you can also find this on your county website)
- Childcare expenses (you’ll need the tax ID of your childcare provider for some deductions)
- Medical costs
- Education expenses (1098-T along with other expenses if you used education savings money to pay for books, supplies, etc.)
- Documentation of contributions you have made to traditional or SEP-IRAs.
- Information on charitable contributions you have made.
- Details of any estimated tax payments you made.
- Documentation of health insurance coverage (Form 1095).
- Documentation of any Health Savings Account contributions you made outside of payroll deductions (1099-SA).
In addition, don’t forget a copy of last year’s return so that your CPA can develop a better understanding of your financial situation. Your CPA may also ask you for some type of identification, such as a copy of your driver’s license or state ID, which can make it easier for them to electronically file your return.
Along with this paperwork, you should also come armed with all your most pressing financial questions. For instance, you may want to ask your CPA what he or she would recommend to help you make better sense of your financial life. In reviewing your documents, your CPA may notice that you haven’t made the most of tax-advantaged retirement opportunities or that you’re paying too much interest on your outstanding debt. Because of their extensive financial knowledge, your CPA should be able to offer smart ideas to address these and many other issues. In addition, ask about whether you’re taking advantage of tax-saving opportunities. CPAs can spot deductions or credits you may be missing or identify other chances to cut your tax bite.
When you’re meeting to address other financial concerns or goals
Remember that CPAs do a lot more than prepare tax returns. To become a CPA, these professionals must pass a rigorous 14-hour, four-part examination that evaluates their business knowledge and understanding of ethical standards. In order to hold on to their licenses, they are also required to meet tough education, work experience and ethical standards. Because of their strong business background, CPAs usually provide a wide variety of services for both individual and business clients.
To best prepare to make the most of this experience and knowledge that you’ll have access to, spend some time before your meeting clarifying any goals you are working to achieve and write out any financial questions you have so you can be sure to address them all. Common questions you might ask beyond taxes include:
Am I saving enough to pay for college or retirement?
To best help your CPA answer this question, bring along any statements for accounts you’ve already established, along with specific information on how much you are currently saving. If you have a workplace retirement account such as a 401k or 403b, make sure you know what your match is so your CPA can accurately crunch the numbers.
Some CPAs who hold the Personal Finance Specialist (aka CPA/PFS) designation may also be able to give you advice on how to best invest for these goals, so be sure to bring a list of the available investment options in any education or retirement savings plans you hold.
What do I need to do to start my own business?
Answering this question will likely take more than one meeting, but to prepare for the first meeting, it’s best to bring any research you’ve already done on the type of business you’re looking to start, including any market intelligence you have along with any financial projections you’ve already ran. If you need to start there with your CPA, then ideally you’ll come armed with an idea of pricing or at least the cost of any products or services you wish to deliver, then your CPA can help you set pricing if needed, or run projections to see if and when your business should be profitable.
CPAs are typically well-connected in the business community as well, so can often be a great source of referrals to other professionals you may need to help you start your business including an attorney, bookkeeper and even sometimes marketing or operations consultants. A CPA who works with many small business owners is likely to have clients who may be able to help your business as well – don’t be afraid to ask for introductions!
What can a CPA do for you? That’s a great question to ask in your first meeting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the many solutions that CPAs can offer to address all your financial challenges.