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Nine questions to ask when hiring a sales tax accountant

by TaxJar November 1, 2023

Please note: This blog was originally published in 2020. It’s since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Hiring any professional can be daunting, especially when you’re not sure exactly what you need. Ask these questions to make sure you’re hiring the right sales tax accountant for your business.

1.) Is sales tax your main focus?

Accounting is a broad field and sales tax experts are a smaller subsection of the industry. This means that the accountant you use for your income tax may know the basics of sales tax, but not the many intricacies. Or they may know quite a lot about sales tax in the state where the operate, but not much about multi-state sales tax issues. In fact, many accountants send complicated sales tax questions to specialists.

This is why your sales tax expert may not necessarily be an “accountant.” He or she may be a traditional CPA, but could also be an enrolled agent, sales tax attorney or other sales tax specialist.

Ask your potential sales tax accountant if sales tax is their main focus and what they would do if they ran into a knotty problem that involved many states.

2.) What background and training do you have to do this type of work?

How long has your sales tax expert worked in sales tax? Is he or she credentialed?

The CMI (which stands for “Certified Member of the Institute”) from the Institute of Professionals in Taxation (IPT) is the only specific sales tax designation. Earning the certification takes 5 years of full time sales tax experience plus a rigorous exam.

3.) Do you have experience working with clients like me?

We talk to e-commerce sellers daily who try to visit their hometown CPA only to be treated like a brick and mortar business. Selling online has its own unique set of accounting challenges, and dealing with sales tax is a big part of that.

Ask your potential tax professional if they has worked with e-commerce sellers, for how long, and how many e-commerce clients they have helped.

4.) What services are covered by your charges?

Be wary of comparing prices on a website. Instead ask your potential sales tax accountant what types of services their pricing covers. This depends on what you’re looking for. An advisor may charge you a consulting fee but leave the legwork of reporting and filing sales tax in you hands, while another sales tax expert might take the process entirely out of your hands. It all depends on your company, your budget and your expectations.

5.) Who will I actually work with?

Will you work with the owner of the company or a junior assistant? Depending on your needs and budget, this may be an important distinction.

6.) What else do you do outside of sales tax?

Does the company also deal with other aspects of state and local tax, like corporate income tax and franchise tax? This will help you determine if this is your one-stop-shop or a true specialized expert.

7.) How will we communicate?

What if you’re a phone talker but your potential sales tax expert lives for email? Or you run your business on the weekends and need someone available in off hours? It’s crucial to determine if your communication styles match up. Otherwise even the most knowledgeable and experienced sales tax professional may leave you feeling dissatisfied.

8.) Will you work with the accounting software and services I use?

This is a big one. If you’ve done all your bookkeeping on GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping and your accountant wants you to switch to Quickbooks, the learning curve may just be too high. Or, if you’re a TaxJar user (and if you’re not, why not try a 30-day free trial?) you want to make sure your accountant can work with you. Find out if your potential sales tax expert will work with your business or require you to work her way.

9.) Do you have a list of references I can talk to?

Experienced sales tax experts will have references to back up their work. Ask to talk to some references before you retain a sales tax experts’s services.

A big thanks to George Sleeman of Tax Man to You, and Lauren Stinson of Windward TaxSylvia Dion, CPA helping come up with the questions for this post.

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