I am writing this post to clarify the common misconception that all Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) have the answers to all tax questions and will prepare tax returns. The truth is, CPAs do not always have the answers stored in their heads. When we complete the four part exams for certification in the following areas: Auditing & Attestation, Financial Accounting & Reporting, Regulation (Taxes and Business Law), and Business Environments & Concepts, we are equipped with the tools to do research and to solve accounting and tax problems. It should be noted though, that not all CPAs have a deep love for taxes.
There are so many other specialties and areas in accounting that CPAs focus on. For example, some CPAs specialize in performing audits, which is where they review the financial records of organizations and government entities to ensure that the numbers reflected are reasonably stated and there are no significant or material misstatements and errors. In addition, there are some CPAs who work for organizations where they prepare and record the financial transactions for their companies and perform analysis to interpret results. Other CPAs may choose to work on complex business problems and act as consultants or advisors to develop solutions to those problems (mergers and acquisitions, valuation of a business, etc.). These different capabilities are just the tip of the iceberg of the different focus areas of CPAs. CPAs do not only become relevant during tax seasons.
I often compare it to the analogy of being a doctor or a lawyer. Just because an individual is a doctor doesn’t mean they have the solution to all your medical problems. If that doctor is a heart surgeon, doesn’t mean they can solve your dental needs. Likewise, if an individual is a criminal defense attorney doesn’t mean they would represent you in a traffic court. Most professional fields are multidimensional and there are individuals that specialize in different areas.
Did you know that when an individual contacts a CPA on demand/online that works for the large tax preparing organizations, that the CPAs are utilizing the IRS website alongside other research tools? It should be understood that tax laws change frequently, and unless 52-weeks per year that CPA is working with taxes, doesn’t mean that they are up to date with all the changes. Utilizing these tools, ensure that the CPA is able to give the customer/client the most accurate tax advice, and to assist that client in preparing their tax returns.
Some CPAs may choose to work during the tax season as a side hustle to make some extra money, while others may choose not to do so. It all comes down to preferences and what each person’s goals are. To close, some CPAs are indifferent to taxes so it is recommended that before you ask a tax question, to find out if that CPA is willing and able to assist with providing tax advice.