Business Management

How Finding the Right Accountant Can Save You Money

Expertise: Business Management, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Personal Finance, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Commercial Real Estate, Personal Development, Real Estate News & Commentary
228 Articles Written

People often call their accountants when it’s time to file their tax returns, but then the phone goes radio silent for the rest of the year. I get it. I used to do the same thing. I’d send my accountant my documents and he would crank out my tax returns for me. Sounds simple enough, right?

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That was before I realized the power of speaking with my accountant regularly and strategizing together. When I shifted my thinking and started to brainstorm with my accountant about tax-saving opportunities, it made a huge difference. All of a sudden, I began to invest more strategically, considering potential tax implications beforehand.

So, when is the best time to hire an accountant? And how do you get the most out of conversations with yours once you hire one?

When to Hire an Accountant

The best time to hire an accountant will be different for everyone. Personally, I decided to hire one when my life started to get more complicated from a tax perspective. What I mean is that I started to have deductions that were cumulatively higher than the standard deduction. For example, I got married, had children, and bought my first property.

Looking back, I should’ve hired one sooner.

In fact, just the other day I was running through the numbers with my youngest son. We looked back over my real estate portfolio and found that although I usually had a surplus of cash flow, I’d almost always rolled it right back into my portfolio to sustain a property I owned or to purchase a new one.

Related: An Accounting Hack for Landlords So Easy, Even a Non-CPA Can Do It

What really propelled me into wealth were the numerous tax-saving strategies I employed throughout my investing career—many of which I realized, or learned about, through conversations with my accountant. So, yes, I suggest hiring an accountant before you feel like you need one, if only to gain ideas and strategies to utilize in the future.

dollars, change and a toy home stacked on top of tax filing paperwork

How to Find the Right Accountant

Although many investors prefer hiring an accountant who has personally invested in real estate, I think it’s more important that he or she has experience working with real estate investors. If your accountant is learning more from working with you than you are from working with him or her, you have the wrong accountant.

This is where referrals come into play. What better way to find an accountant than to ask around at your local REIA meeting or even here on BiggerPockets?

My accountant, whom I’ve worked with for 20-some-odd years now, was referred to me by a family member who owned a bunch of real estate properties.

Personally, I prefer someone who has years of experience. That said, I would look for someone who is career-focused and energetic enough to stay up-to-date on the tax code. Keep in mind, a new version of the federal tax code is published each year, and it’s not a light read.

Talking Strategy with Your Accountant

Let’s say you have a great accountant who’s very knowledgeable and has experience working with investors. Are you asking him or her the right questions?

Meeting with your accountant can be similar to going in for a doctor’s appointment: You have to ask proactive questions to get the most out of it. Maybe your accountant has great advice, but you’re just not asking for it.

Here are a few simple questions to get the conversation flowing:

  • What strategies have you seen other investors use to save on taxes?
  • What can I do to save more money this year, next year, and beyond?
  • Were there any red flags in my return?
  • Are there any other deductions that I could be taking that I’m not set up to take now?
  • Are my deductions being taken on the right schedule?

Related: Yes, You DO Need an Accountant: Here’s Why

Of course, while it’s important to ask questions and learn about new strategies, try not to waste your accountant’s time. For example, if you’re keeping up your side of the bargain by being respectful and preparing documents appropriately, your accountant will probably be willing to talk with you about detailed strategies.

There may even be some strategies you can implement ahead of time to offset gains or losses. So, if you’re thinking about buying or selling a property, winding down a business, or making a large financial decision, it may pay to talk to your accountant first.  

How did you find the accountant you use for your investing business? Better yet, how do you best utilize his or her advice?

Tell me in the comments below!

Since 2007, Dave Van Horn has served as president and CEO of PPR Note Co., a $150MM+ company managing funds that buy, sell, and hold residential mortgages nat...
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    Ian Edlind from Denver, Colorado
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I’m mostly just a lurker here but I couldn’t resist posting on this topic. I’m not an accountant myself, but I work for Xero, an accounting software company with US headquarters in Denver (same place as Bigger Pockets!). In my role, I work with real estate investors all the time. Using accounting software is a good first step for the real estate investor, but I concur that engaging a CPA is crucial to success. On another note, [shamless promotion alert!] I’d love to talk to anyone out there seeking accounting software and/or a Xero certified accountant in their local area with industry expertise. Please message me at ian.edlind[at]
    Dave Van Horn Fund Manager from Berwyn, PA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Software is definitely a good first step. And sounds like an interesting company Ian. Thanks for reading! Best, Dave
    Gerry C. from Maple Valley, Washington
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great article Dave! Thanks for sharing. Any book you recommend about Tax on Real estate investor.
    Dave Van Horn Fund Manager from Berwyn, PA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Sure thing Gerry. Amanda Han from BiggerPockets has a great book called “The Book on Tax Strategies for the Savvy Real Estate Investor” I’d also recommend Tom Wheelright’s book, :Tax-Free Wealth: How to Build Massive Wealth by Permanently Lowering Your Taxes” Hope this helps. Best, Dave
    Ana Adler Rental Property Investor from Saint Petersburg, FL
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Impeccable timing. I am meeting with a possible new accountant next week that spoke at my local REIA meeting. Your suggested questions will be a great starting point for our conversation. Many thanks.
    Ashley Turns
    Replied almost 3 years ago
    I like your tip to find an accountant who has years of experience but still stays up-to-date on the tax code. The store I work at is looking for a service to help them with their finances. I will be sure to tell my boss that she should start her search for an accountant by focusing on those with a lot of experience.
    Pamela Tan
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I am a private investor in properties in Manhattan. I realized I am working with an accountant that does not have expertise in this area. I am looking for a good accountant/advisor and would love it if you can give me referrals please? I do not attend REI meetings, I've just started growing my business organically from personal purchases. Thank you so much.
    David Hill from Glenside, Pennsylvania
    Replied about 1 year ago
    Dave - Would you recommend getting advice from a CPA on when and how to set up and structure entities such as corps, LLC's, etc. for flips, rentals, notes, etc.? If so, which of the accountants you mentioned you use do you think would be best suited to help with this? If not, any other recommendations? Thanks!
    Frank Stanzione from Wilmington, Delaware
    Replied 1 day ago
    Dave was asking if you knew of or could point me in the direction of a Accountant here in Wilmington DE. My current CPA has retired