business

Why Shuffle off from Buffalo?

In today's wired world, a mere matter of 1,000-plus miles between an accountant and his client is no obstacle to good service

By Karen E. Klein

Q: My tax accountant is in Buffalo, where I lived and ran my small business for 25 years. About eight years ago, I moved to Florida, but I have continued to use the same accountant for my business and personal taxes. I have not seen the man in all that time, so I'm wondering if using an out-of-state accountant is putting me in jeopardy in the event of an IRS audit or other problem. I'm happy with his work, but would it be wise to make a change? -- J.A., Boca Raton, Fla.

A:

This might be a good time to pull out the old saw that starts, "If it ain't broke...." You say you're happy with your accountant's work, and if you truly are -- if he gives you plenty of personal service, is available to answer questions, and is a ready font of advice -- what difference does a little distance make?

"Satisfaction, comfort, and confidence with your CPA is paramount," says Donald Lucove, of Lucove, Say & Co., an accounting firm based in Calabasas, Calif. that prepares tax returns for clients in 18 states and Washington, D.C. "If you have those things with your CPA in Buffalo, there's probably no reason to contemplate change."

IS HE THERE FOR YOU?

  Talk to your CPA about what he is prepared to do if the IRS comes calling. Some accountants represent their clients in audits, others do not. If yours does, and Uncle Sam selects your tax return for examination, the IRS office covering Boca Raton could transfer the matter to Buffalo so that your CPA can represent you. Alternately, your CPA could handle the matter by correspondence, Lucove says. If your accountant doesn't offer audit representation, that might be a good reason in itself to think about changing providers, he adds.

Other than that, if you consider your relationship with your CPA functional and worthy, hang on to a good thing. With today's technology, increasing numbers of small companies -- even service providers -- are finding themselves with national and even international rosters of clients. Between telephone, e-mail, fax, and overnight document delivery, there's little that can't be done even from 1,143 miles away (the distance between Buffalo and Boca Raton).

What doesn't happen is that face-to-face office meeting, annual lunch, or reassuring handshake -- the "face time" that many people find absolutely necessary. If you were one of them, you would have hired a qualified local accountant by now. So, if you're happy with a long-distance relationship, stick with it. There is one caveat, however: Consider retaining a local tax attorney to help with your estate planning. "Each state has its own unique approach to an individual estate," notes Lucove. "There is not the same 'one size fits all' in that area."

Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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