How Finding the Right Accountant Can Save You Money

by | BiggerPockets.com

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?

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.

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 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 your accountant while considering your real estate portfolio? Better yet, how do you best utilize his or her advice? Tell me in the comments below!

About Author

Dave Van Horn

Dave Van Horn is President at PPR The Note Co. - an operating entity that manages several funds that buy/sell/hold residential mortgages, both performing and delinquent. Dave has been in the Real Estate business for over 25 years, starting out as a Realtor and contractor and moving onto everything from fix and flips to Raising Private Money.

13 Comments

  1. Alik Levin

    Dave,
    I like how you drive by asking open ended questions.
    I do it all by myself today, but as the deals become more complex I am sure will need help. Regardless going with tax strategy alone or with the help of good knowledgeably CPA the following books are great foundation to enable one make smarter decisions:

    Tax-Free Wealth by Tom Wheelwright
    Every Landlord’s Tax Deduction by Stephen Fishman J.D.
    Deduct It! by Stephen Fishman JD

  2. Jerry W.

    Dave,
    I always look forward to your articles. They provide so much wisdom that clearly comes from experience. While all information can be helpful, practical information can be the hardest to come by some days. Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. Cheryl Crockett

    Finding a CPA who is a good interpersonal fit is very important to me. Just like in any other profession, CPAs come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. This professional compatibility can make discussions about finances and tax preparation so much easier.
    My approach is to view my CPA as a key member of my team. Mine pays close attention to what I’m doing and genuinely cares about supporting my success through her work for me.

    • Dave Van Horn

      Hi David,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      As far as REIA groups go, I’d recommend DIG (Diversified Investor Group) first and foremost. They’ve been my mainstay for years and they have meetings all across the southeast PA area. Since my local investing was primarily based in Delaware County, I also liked DPI (Delco Property Investors). I also occasionally attend and enjoy SJREIA (south jersey) and DELREIA (Delaware).

      I have multiple CPA’s I use for various things. The question is, a CPA for what exactly?

      I currently use Daniel P Irwin for local investment properties, Chris LaSpada (of D’Amato & LaSpada, LLC – based out of Delaware) for my business, and I use Jeff Spiegel (based out of California) for our note funds. I also like Brandon Hall, a very popular accountant here on BP for strategy. He’s based out of DC but his firm is virtual, so he’s really nationwide.

      But recommending accountants can be tricky. What works for me may not work for you. Plus I have an unfair advantage since I went to school for accounting and talk their language a bit, so that may skew my opinion. Anyway, hope these recommendations can help point you in the right direction.

      Best,
      Dave

  4. Ian Edlind

    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]xero.com.

    • Dave Van Horn

      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

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