America Counts on CPAs: A Guide to Understanding and Using CPA Services

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The Value of a CPA | Top

Certified Public Accountants (CPA) are innovative and strategic thinkers who are well respected for their integrity and commitment to excellence. They are dedicated to each client and work to satisfy their business and financial needs. CPAs provide a number of valuable and useful services to consumers, business owners, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Their services range from helping an individual develop a personal financial plan to assisting a business owner with things like tax planning, financial statement analysis and understanding complex financial transactions for business decision-making. When you consult a CPA you are forming a business partnership with someone who values your success.


Professional Membership in VSCPA | Top

In Virginia, CPAs who are committed to the profession generally belong to the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA). Membership in the VSCPA is a mark of distinction shared by more than 11,000 CPAs in Virginia. It means the CPA you hire has opportunities to participate in education and training regarding business issues, accounting, taxation, information technology, ethics and other topics. Finding a CPA with membership in the VSCPA is your guarantee to financial success.


The CPA Difference: Education, Experience and Examination | Top

When you hire a CPA, you can be confident they have met strict licensing and ethics requirements before receiving their certification. These requirements distinguish CPAs from other business and financial advisors. Typically, CPAs must pass a rigorous national exam and meet stringent experience requirements in addition to completing four to five years of study at a college or university. To maintain their licenses, CPAs pursue continuing professional education that keep them current with the latest business and technical issues. In Virginia, every CPA must take a class each year on professional ethics to satisfy continuing education requirements. When you work with a CPA, you can be assured that he or she has mastered a significant body of knowledge.


Choosing & Finding a CPA | Top

First, decide what you want from your CPA. While all CPAs meet the same basic education, training and licensing requirements, not all provide the same range of services. Analyze your present and future financial needs. After you determine your goals, the next step is to find a CPA. The Virginia Society of CPAs offers a free CPA referral service for the public. The Find a CPA directory, located on the VSCPA homepage, allows you to look up a CPA by name or by city, firm size, services offered or industries served. Matches will be listed in alphabetical order.


Reasonable CPA Fees | Top

CPAs normally base their fees on the time required to perform the services, the type of services required, the CPA's level of expertise and the complexity of the work. There are no "fee schedules" common to the CPA profession. Talk frankly with your CPA about fees. Find out how much it costs for work performed by a staff accountant under the supervision of a CPA, a higher-level employee such as a supervisor, or perhaps by a manager or partner of the firm.


About CPA Services | Top

Tax Services

Individuals and business leaders look to CPAs for advice on income tax and business tax strategies. They assist clients with personal and business tax planning, preparing income tax returns, and representing individuals before government agencies at federal, state and local levels. As part of their ongoing education, CPAs stay up-to-date on current tax laws and regulations, which can save their clients substantial amounts of money and worry. CPAs take the guesswork out of tax regulations and provide straightforward advice for staying on a clear financial path. Many CPAs are also trained to prepare tax returns or represent a client to tax authorities.

Accounting and Assurance Services

Auditing (also known as assurance services) is one of the most important and well-known services CPAs provide. Audits are conducted annually for publicly owned companies, privately owned businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies and groups. These reports help owners and managers make operating decisions, enable creditors to evaluate loan applications, and help individuals make investment decisions. A CPA may provide a client with three distinct services designed to meet a different need: compilation, review or audit.

  • Compilation — The CPA assembles financial statements using the client's data but does not provide assurance on the financial statement. Compilations are useful in assisting small, non-public companies. During a compilation, the data is simply arranged into conventional financial statement form. No probing is conducted beneath the surface unless the CPA becomes aware that the data provided is in error or incomplete.
  • Review — A private company may engage a CPA to perform a review of its financial statements and issue a report that provides limited assurance that material changes to the financial statements are not necessary. With respect to reliability and assurance, a review falls between a compilation, which provides no assurance, and the more extensive assurance of an audit.
  • Audit — A public or private company may engage a CPA to audit its financial statements. Management is responsible for the content of its financial statements regardless of an organization's size or form. The audit, provided by the CPA, is a report that provides an opinion on whether the financial statements are presented fairly in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. An audit is designed to provide the highest level of assurance that the financial statements are free of material errors and fraud.
  • Internal Controls — Learning how to protect the resources of a company is a key element in running a successful business. CPAs can help business owners understand the importance of organizational controls by evaluating or setting up procedures to reduce the risk of fraud.

Financial Services

To help individuals maximize their income and plan for a secure future, CPAs offer a variety of financial services, which include: personal financial planning, retirement and estate planning, college funding, investing, risk management and business succession planning. A few ways CPAs can help individuals with financial planning include: developing a personal budget, offering recommendations on ways to save for college or planning for retirement. CPAs can also offer advice on investment opportunities or assist with estate planning needs to ensure beneficiaries receive the maximum benefits.

Business and Management Consulting

CPAs play a vital role in helping businesses make better use of their resources and increasing efficiency and profitability. With careful planning and help from a CPA, you can learn how to start, manage and successfully grow a business. CPAs can offer advice in such areas as:

  • Small business management
  • Cash management
  • Compensation plan evaluations
  • Growth planning
  • Purchasing or selling a business
  • Measuring the performance of a business
  • Disaster recovery planning

CPAs are trained to look at businesses with an objective eye. They can help you identify weaknesses in your organization and offer suggestions for improvements. A CPA can be your most valuable business partner, one who helps you reach for success.

Litigation Services

CPAs are considered the foremost authorities on financial and economic issues. In the legal arena, CPAs act as either expert witnesses or consultants, presenting private advice to attorneys. CPAs also assist clients in divorce settlements, fraud investigations, bankruptcies and alternative dispute resolutions. For example, a divorce can have a dramatic impact on a person's tax liability. A CPA can offer advice on how to reduce the tax liability and help a client continue to meet personal financial goals.