Choosing an accountant

Death and taxes...
Choosing an accountant is much like choosing any other professional, such as a lawyer or plumber. The key is to shop around.

What accountants can do for you

For most of us, the word 'accountant' makes us think of tax time but accountants can offer a range of services.

Tax returns

You can engage the services of an accountant to do your tax return each year, provided they are a registered tax agent. You can check this on the online tax and BAS agent register.

This type of accounting service is widely used and typically offered by suburban accountants and large accounting firms with local offices. Look out for the advertisements come tax time.

If your finances are straightforward (for example, your only income is from your job and you have few or no benefits to claim), try doing it yourself by filling out a paper tax return or using the Tax Office's online E-tax system.

More complex tax issues

If you have more complex finances you may want to engage an accountant to give you general advice on specific tax situations. Accountants may also be able to help you with investment issues provided they have an Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL). You can check if they have a licence on ASIC Connect's Professional Registers.

If your accountant gives you advice about your self-managed super fund, they must have an AFSL. Make sure they are licensed by asking for their AFSL number and searching ASIC's financial advisers register to see what products they are allowed to advise on. 

Financial advisers register

To find out more about the licensing of accountants who give financial advice, visit the ASIC website.

Business accounting

Another reason people use accountants is for business purposes. Most businesses require the services of an accountant or bookkeeper because there are specific laws about the records that businesses need to keep.

If you run a business, check out the Australian Taxation Office's information on record keeping essentials. A local government business advisory service may also be able to help out - find your nearest service using Advisor Finder.

How Australians spend their tax refund

tax infographicTake a look at our tax refund infographic to find out the average refund and how people spend it.

How to find an accountant

You can find accountants in your area by searching online.

You can also ask for recommendations from family and friends.

Questions to ask

After you have created a shortlist of accountants, contact each of them and find out:

  • Specialisation - What services do they offer?  Do they regularly deal with people in similar situations to you? If you have specific needs, make sure your accountant has experience in that area. If not you may have to pay for a more specialized service.
  • Customer service - Do they provide a good service? Make sure your accountant responds to phone calls and emails promptly. You may also want an accountant that communicates in plain language, not financial jargon.
  • Fees - What will you be charged, and when?
  • Registered - If they are going to do your tax return make sure your accountant is registered at the online tax and BAS agent register. If they are going to advise you on a self-managed super fund, make sure they have an Australian Financial Services License from 1 July 2016.
  • Qualified - Are they a member of a professional association? (For example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, Certified Practicing Accountants Australia or the Institute of Public Accountants.) If they are, they have to meet the standards of the association. It also means you can complain to the association if you're not happy with your accountant.

If you're happy with the answers to all these questions you can feel confident about working with the accountant.

Good accountants can help you grow your money. Take some time to shop around and choose an accountant that meets your needs.

Related links

Last updated: 01 Jul 2016