Organising your finances on a monthly basis is complicated enough, but efficiently managing your money over the course of a year while trying to minimise tax will be viewed by most as a daunting prospect.
An experienced accountant will be able to help you organise your finances so that your situation is as healthy as possible, but how do you know if you've found the right professional for you? What questions should you ask before handing over all those documents?
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1.What are your qualifications?
This question is perhaps more important when dealing with an accountant than it is any other professional. The term ‘accountant’ is not regulated, so anyone, regardless of background or qualifications, can refer to themselves as an accountant. All accountants featured on VouchedFor must be a qualified member of one of the Chartered Accountancy bodies in the UK, but it may give you additional peace of mind to discuss this with your accountant personally.
2.How do you charge fees?
As with all professionals, this should be one of the first things you establish. Some aspects of an accountant’s role will be dictated by a set fee, while other – generally more extensive – pieces of work will usually be charged by the hour.
3.How often should we be in contact, and who arranges meetings/discussion?It is important to check if your accountant has a proactive approach. Will they send you remainders when it is time to submit accounts? Will they inform you when your next scheduled meeting it due to take place? Or is that something they expect you to be in control of? Establish how often you will be in touch, and via what medium meetings will take place (face-to-face, email, phone, Skype etc).
4.How will you be able to help me prepare with regard to paying tax?
Accountants can help you make important tax savings, while also allowing you to better prepare your finances for the future. They are experts at dealing with money, and are adept at helping individuals and companies organise their finances in the most efficient manner.
5.What changes of circumstance should I inform you about?
While it is often prudent to plan for the long-term when it comes to maximising the potential of your money, life’s many and varied events can often scupper what would otherwise be a solid plan of action. If you separate from your spouse, make the decision to retire, sell/buy a property, decide to start a business, then it is worth informing your accountant. The earlier you let them know, the more time they have to plan for the consequences.
6.How can you help me improve the health of my finances?
Accountants can help you plan and prepare complex, and often incredibly detailed, financial documentation. Not only will this save you time, but it will also ensure you don’t make any costly errors. Accountants are experts are understanding financial situations, and they may be able to save you money by implementing minor changes, or by offering simple advice when it comes to your spending habits.
7.Are there any basic mistakes I am making?
There may be small alterations you can make that could yield financially significant results. Make sure you get the most out of your association, and (figuratively) bleed them dry for information and assistance. You are, after all, paying for their help!
8.What information/documentation do I need to retain?
It is generally worth keeping track of all financial outgoings and incomings, but some transactions will be more significant – and more important – than others. Your accountant should be able to list all documentation that you will require, and will be able to summarise why particular information is important, and how said information will be used in their calculations.
9.How have you been able to help people in similar circumstances?
While confidentiality will stop accountants from discussing the intimate details of their dealings with other clients, they will be able to give a broad overview of people they have helped. If your chosen accountant has previously worked with clients in a similar situation to you, then they will likely be able to offer expert advice based on prior experience and tangible outcomes.
10. Who will be my main point of contact?
It is important you know exactly who you are dealing with. Speak to your accountant on the phone or, even better, meet them face-to-face to discuss the particulars of your situation. It is likely you will be in contact with your accountant regularly, so it might be possible that you will end up speaking to a colleague or associate, too. Ensure you know who you are likely to be dealing with.