I'm wondering what types of resources are available for finding a good accountant, both in terms of assessing the quality of the services they provide as well as the cost of their services in comparison to other providers. I'm interested in both strategies for assessing the competence of an accountant once a particular person has been selected (i.e. relevant questions to ask) and in strategies for coming up with an initial list of accountants to assess. As discussed in this answer, when picking a professional accountant it is important to know what they will and will not do for you.

For my particular case I am interested in both filing as well as general tax planing and education. I am a dual US and Canadian citizen who has worked in Canada, the US, and in the future will be working in Singapore. Therefore I would want someone who is familiar with the relevant deductions and tax credits available to me and some advice on how to minimise my tax burden going forward.

What strategies should I use when looking for an accountant that can offer relevant advice for my specific needs?

  • Sure, I can update the question to reflect that and be more general. In reference to my discussion of a Yelp equivalent product, I guess I am slightly confused by the rules of this overflow site. Similar to a restaurant, even with list of relevant questions no one would suggest cold calling / emailing restaurants at random and asking them questions. Just wondering if there is any generally accepted strategy for finding good accountants (other than asking family and friends). – curious.bean Feb 19 '19 at 22:02
  • I think the question looks fine now. – NL - Apologize to Monica Feb 19 '19 at 23:10
  • My (armchair) experience in watching a company try to find a good accountant approximated something like: you wouldn't know they're a bad accountant until they either quit or get fired, and the new accountant is sloshing through their predecessors work telling you what a mess it is. – CKM Feb 20 '19 at 3:58
  • Are you looking for an accountant or somebody that can help you with tax planning? They are different functions. – mhoran_psprep Feb 20 '19 at 12:37
  • @mhoran_psprep I believe both. I am looking for someone who can file my taxes as well as help me choose the best strategy to reduce my tax burden in the present and looking forward. Maybe you could elaborate on the various qualifications / certifications to distinguish these functions? Is there something akin to a CPA for tax planning? If so, would it be good to look for a dual CPA / tax planning certified individual? – curious.bean Feb 20 '19 at 14:40

Whenever you deal with any type of Financial Professional there is one key thing I look for: Are they a good teacher?

From the comments and your question it sounds like you need someone who knows the tax laws in both Canada and the U.S. who can help you understand what tax shields you can use to help keep more money, legally, in your pocket.

So here are a few strategies you can utilize to help find yourself someone who would be great in your financial corner.

  • Heart of a teacher - Like I mentioned, any other advice is irrelevant if the person is not a good teacher. If someone can explain to you, easily, what options you have - it is a good indicator that they actually know what they are talking about. I've had financial advisers say "Let me handle it". Nope! On to the next guy. Not only are you paying them for their services, but you are paying them for their knowledge! There should never be something in your financial plan that you do not understand. If anyone in your financial counsel team cannot teach you something (regardless of certifications), get rid of them! So moving forward in this list - make sure your accountant/tax professional helps you understand your financial options. Ask them questions that you know the answer to and see how they respond. Interview the person who will be filing your taxes with multiple governments. You do not want to get this wrong.
  • Word of mouth - your situation is more complicated than most. But if you have colleagues or coworkers in a similar situation ask them who they go to and how they like them. Professionals who are good attract more customers by word of mouth by being good at their job. If there is no word of mouth option, perhaps find a group of people in a similar situation and pool your resources together to find someone who can help all of you! Having a multitude of new clients and a new stream of income is beneficial to the person you will be hiring and they may be able to give a discount to all involved. Hey - perhaps your needs will force professionals into this niche market. Don't be afraid to take things into your own hands and save/make yourself some money!
  • Certifications - Certifications can help you find someone who may be able to help you. Search forums, websites, listings, ads, etc. For those who work in the U.S look for someone with a CPA certification and a ACAF for Canada. (Not sure about Singapore). There are probably people who have both! Do not solely rely on these certifications, though. I've met terrible tax professionals with so many letters in their title it hurts to say their name.
  • "Tax Agencies" - Have you ever had a good insurance agent find you the best deals across many companies? They also exist for Accounting/Tax help. Ask your current professional to see if they are part of a larger network of professionals who can help you. This is also similar to Word of Mouth. Maybe they know of people, or a group of people, who can best serve you. If not, Google is full of Ads, especially during this time of year.
  • Take your time - A good financial professional is worth the time and waiting. Don't only think about taxes during tax season when everyone is rushing to get them done. Constantly evaluate your entire financial portfolio every couple of years (or sooner depending on the size of your portfolio). Finding good tax help is invaluable to your personal finance. You mentioned cost of services in your question - I've found that people who are good at their job cost more. But don't take their cost at face value. Don't be afraid to ask why their prices are higher than the other service. Take time to review their costs versus others. Personally, even if their prices are much higher than someone else - if they have the heart of a teacher, the cost is worth it to me.

Continue to educate yourself! You have plenty of time to ensure that your future success depends on it. You've asked on the right place, but don't stop here! Your situation seems complicated, so make sure you invest time (and money) into understanding your situation and options available. Become your own personal finance professional and take control of your portfolio! You can do this!

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  • Canadian here. Never heard of ACAF but it seems to be a certificate created by CPA Canada. As a CPA, I may be biased by I wouldn't trust anyone but a CPA or a tax lawyer unless the person could provide with another proof of knowledge and experience. – ApplePie Mar 25 '19 at 18:46

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