Accountants: Are There Differences Between CPA Firms and Accounting Firms?

Whether you’re a business owner or an individual taxpayer, having an experienced, knowledgeable accountant available for tax return help or dealing with IRS tax problems is vitally important. It can mean the difference between avoiding major tax problems and getting buried by them. However, it’s critical to make sure you know who you’re turning to for tax help, as not all accountants are created equal. There are major differences between CPA firms and accounting firms, so read on to learn more.

Although there are many capable accounting firms that can help you with everything from small business bookkeeping services to filing tax returns, it’s often advisable to seek out tax help from CPA firms. Depending on the complexity of your tax and financial situation, there may be some solid advantages to choosing CPA services instead of ordinary tax and accounting services. When you need an experienced tax advocate, representation at IRS audits, or help with complex tax issues, the additional training and expertise that a CPA offers can make all the difference in the resolution of your tax problems.

Surprisingly, in many states, anyone can refer to themselves as an “accountant” without having any special education, certification, or experience. That’s why it can be somewhat risky to hire an accounting company or┬átax accountant who has not taken and passed the rigorous Uniform CPA Examination. In order to be granted a CPA license by a state board of accountancy, a CPA candidate also needs to earn a college degree in accounting, gain professional work experience in public accounting, and demonstrate high ethical standards. Unlike many accounting firms, CPA firms are qualified to negotiate an IRS tax settlement, help clients obtain tax debt relief, and prepare effective offers in compromise.

With expertise in everything from business valuations and financial reporting to negotiating the release of wage garnishments and IRS tax liens, CPA firms are usually the type of tax consultants you can place the most confidence in. In addition to meticulous tax return preparation and financial planning guidance, many CPA firms can provide valuable help in securing IRS installment agreements, penalty abatement, innocent spouse relief claims, and IRS tax settlements. While there’s no blanket guarantee that all CPAs are beyond reproach, CPA certification is usually an indication that you’re receiving tax advice from a meticulous and knowledgeable professional.

If you’re among the minority of taxpayers who do not own real estate, claim tax deductions, have investment income, or ever encounter tax issues of any kind, then it might not be necessary to hire a CPA. For example, a young, single professional who does not have any dependents, assets, or deductible expenses may be able to handle his or her own income tax preparation and planning without too much difficulty. As his or her career, business, or financial situation moves forward, however, the services of a competent accounting company or tax accountant often become an essential part of financial management.

When it comes to accounting professionals, understanding the difference between a CPA firm and an accounting firm can make sure you get the services you need for your specific situation.

Simple Accounting For The Small Business – Bookkeeping Using A Simple Spreadsheet Template

Starting a small business out of your home, offering products or services like business consulting, photography, selling on the web or a MLM? You are now faced with tracking all your expenses and revenues for your business and you certainly don’t have the money yet to engage a bookkeeper or accountant. If your business is a sole proprietorship, whether it be a Canadian Proprietorship or a US-based Proprietorship, you do not require an accountant to submit your company financials (books) to the IRS (USA) or Revenue Canada). Your business revenue and losses are reported as part of your annual personal income tax. For this small business start-up, you won’t need to buy fancy accounting software, like Quick Books or AccPac to track your business.

Only as part of incorporating Bizfare Enterprise Inc in 2005 was it a requirement to engage an accountant. My accountant did insist on using Quick Books software for my business accounting. Up until then using a simple spreadsheet template served my business accounting needs for over ten years. This simple spreadsheet accounting stood the test of multiple audits by Revenue Canada (CRA and Revenue Canada Goods and Services Tax. Both the hardcopy columnar pad and an electronic spreadsheet version of my financial books were accepted by Revenue Canada. (BTW the audits disclosed more ways for me to claim back additional taxes for the previous three years! Now that’s my type of audit!)

In your new start-up business venture, you likely will generate somewhere between 10 to 30 accounting transactions per month. These transactions would be items like Expense, Revenue (sales), Liability (Loan) type transactions and Sales Tax (Federal + State/Provincial) Collection/Deductions. These transactions are further broken down into various Business Accounts. All the Accounts you set up for your business is called a Chart of Accounts. Recording your business financial transactions (Journal Entries) can be executed with pen and ink on an accounting columnar pad or electronically with your computer using a spreadsheet program (MS Excel, Open Office, Star Office).

Whether you employ electronic or hardcopy media, you need to develop a simple Journal template to create your Business Synoptic Journal. This Synoptic Journal format has the advantage of allowing you a complete view of all your individual journal entry transactions against all your various Business Accounts. Creating this Synoptic Journal is easier to do than you think and requires no prior accounting or bookkeeping knowledge.

TIP #1: You could further reduce the accounting line items (Journal Entries) by consolidating like items such as ‘all the Sales for the month’ and ‘all parking receipts for the month’ into one totaled line item for the month.

Where do you start to identify the various Business Accounts required for your Synoptic Journal?

If you currently work for a company or government, secure of one of their employee expense forms. Look at each of the areas identified as expenses – meals, mileage, hotel accommodations, taxi, car rental, telephone & cell phone, air fare, office supplies, etc. This is an excellent place to identify the various Business Expense Accounts you need to set up for your business accounting books. To complete your business Chart of Accounts, include a Business Bank Account, Sales, COGS (Cost of Goods Sold), Sales Tax Collection, Marketing Expense and others as required. Each of these Accounts will be a listed as a title across the top of each column of your Synoptic Journal. Each row (line item) will be the individual journal transactions entered by you. The journal transactions are grouped and summarized for each business month; usually, January through December.

So your Synoptic Journal would look something like this Sample Synoptic Journal at http://picasaweb.google.com/carl.chesal/BookkeepingTemplate.

The column headings might be in this order (from left to right):

DATE | DESCRIPTION | BANK DEPOSITS | BANK WITHDRAWALS | SALES REVENUE | COGS | SALES TAX COLLECTED & REMITTED | OFFICE SUPPLIES EXPENSE | EXPENSE #2 | EXPENSE #3 | ETC

TIP #2: Unless your business is Incorporated or an LLC, you don’t need to go through the expense of opening a business account with your bank. Usually Business accounts charge a higher monthly fee, charge for printing checks (cheques) and don’t offer any interest on your monthly account balance. Instead, open a separate personal bank account (maybe savings). This will show the ‘taxman’ that you are keeping the business separate from your personal banking. Remember you are a sole proprietor and all your business income (and losses) are to be applied directly to your personal income tax submission ( a s per IRS and CRA).

To save you time and make is very simple, I have already created a simple spreadsheet Synoptic Journal template that performs all the calculations for each month and rolls up the 12 business months so it can easily be included in your annual personal income tax preparation. This Synoptic Journal template has Debit/Credit checks and balances, tracks sales taxes, mileage and totals each account for your entire fiscal year. If you want this FREE Bookkeeping template, you can get it at Communicate Innovate. With a few key strokes, which will help identify yourself, I will gladly send you this FREE Synoptic Journal Template and also any future Small Business Tips.

TIP #3: One Rule of Accounting is that every time you record a journal entry (line item which applies the transaction against the appropriate business accounts) the Debits and Credits MUST REMAIN EQUAL at ALL Times. This Debit Equals Credit calculator is built into this FREE Bookkeeping Template. When you have completed entering a line item (journal transaction), check to ensure that the amount the Debit cell equals the amount in the Credit cell. If they are not equal, you have not entered the amounts properly in your journal transaction. Correct the problem before entering your next journal entry.

You are now equipped to capture your business financial books with some simple accounting software. Happy bookkeeping! And Happy Selling!

Five Accounting Services You Should Leave to A Pro

When we talk about accounting services, you’d be pretty surprised at the varied amount of answers you’ll get from everyone. With so many financial backgrounds at work at any given time, it’s no wonder that pegging down a solid notion of what accounting services entail can be difficult. The fact is that there is more to these specialized services than you’d expect. What’s more, these services may affect you in either a personal or professional manner.

This, of course, is why there are some matters that are best left to the professionals. They not only have the background and experience, but they also know what to do if there is a bit of a snag. Here are five accounting services that, in the long-run, may be best left to the accounting pros:

1. Business Plan – You may think that as you start your business, you alone will have all the right answers. This, unfortunately, is a bit narrow in scope. A trusted accountant can help you really make a business plan that best outlines your goals for both the short & long-term.

2. Succession Planning – At the other end of your business life, the right accountant can help you put together a plan for who will be taking over your business & how this transition will best reflect you initial long-term plans.

3. Estate Planning – No one likes to think about how things will go when they die, but it is important to make sure all of the necessary items (i.e., funeral costs, paid debts) are resolved. A solid accounting pro can help guide you in terms of settling your estate the way you see fit.

4. Retirement Planning – When you’re in the midst of making your business be the best & trying to raise a family at the same time, it can be pretty tough to keep track of what will await you when you decide to retire. It’s not only key to have a productive conversation with your significant other, but it’s also important to get a financial professional in the midst to help get you sorted out at the end of your working life.

5. Filing Taxes – Filing your taxes can include the following: non-profit tax compliance, estate tax compliance, and general preparation of federal, state, and local taxes. If you look at the first two, it makes sense that getting a pro involved would be best simply because you are starting to deal with a lot of ins and outs that not only get complicated, but they can cost you a lot of money. The last item may ruffle some feathers because there are a lot of people who do their own taxes & have no problems. The thing is that an experienced tax preparer/accounting pro can help streamline the process, find any & all available money still on the table, and can help you look forward in terms of planning ahead.

Don’t assume that you can handle all accounting services because you’re pretty good with math. By building a relationship with a trusted accounting firm, you can give yourself peace of mind & be privy to beneficial financial planning, save yourself the complexity that comes as your taxes become more involved, and you have a financial partner for life.