How Much Does a CPA or Accountant Cost?


Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA


Reviewed by


April 18, 2024

This article is Tax Professional approved


Preparing your tax return on your own can be risky. Overlooked deductions and simple mistakes can end up costing you thousands of dollars in overpaid taxes or fines and penalties.

For that reason, many small business owners hire a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to handle their taxes and provide other tax, accounting, and business advice. But how much does a CPA cost?

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According to the National Society of Accountants, in 2020-2021, the tax preparation fees average anywhere from $220 for a Form 1040 claiming the standard deduction to $913 for a corporate tax return (Form 1120).

Of course, those are averages. The actual fees can depend on your location, the CPA’s experience level, the complexity of your financial situation, and the level of service you need.

Accountancy fees are not regulated or determined by local governments. Instead, prices depend on factors like the size of your business, the services required, the accountant's expertise, and the length of time you plan to work with them.

Accountants charge using three common fee structures: hourly, project-based, and fixed fees.

What are the hourly rates for accountants?

Hourly rates are common, and they vary based on the accountant’s experience, training, and certifications. An accountant’s hourly rate can range from $150 to more than $400 per hour.

Project rates for accountants

If you only need an accountant for an occasional project, like tax preparation or an audit, you can ask for an estimate of the total cost before they begin work. Often, the project rate will be the accountant’s hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours they believe it will take to complete the project.

CPA fees for business advising and consulting

Individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies turn to CPAs for objective advice in both strategic and financial areas. This advice can cover a variety of areas, such as getting funding, improving cash flow, and more.

The National Society of Accountants reports that the average rate for management advisory services is $158 per hour. Many CPA firms also package advisory services with traditional tax and accounting services for a set monthly or annual fee.

CPA fees for forensic accounting

CPAs specializing in forensic accounting use their financial knowledge and investigative skills to assist with actual or anticipated disputes or litigation. Their specialization might allow them to quantify losses and economic damages for an insurance claim or breach of contract lawsuit, value a business as part of a dispute between business partners, or search for hidden assets in a divorce case.

According to, forensic accountants typically charge anywhere from $300 to $500 per hour.

These are just a few of the services a CPA can provide. Some offer personal financial planning services, human resources or technology consulting, startup assistance, estate planning advice, and more. Fees for their services can vary quite a bit, so be sure to shop around when you’re ready to hire an accounting professional.

Circumstances under which businesses should opt for fixed or monthly accounting fees:

If you require ongoing accounting services, like bookkeeping or payroll, it usually makes more sense to ask for a fixed-fee structure. Since you pay the same rate each month, fixed fees are easy to budget for, and they often end up being a better deal in the long run.

Note: You can find quotes below and above those brackets, and rates vary depending on your needs. For a more accurate figure, try to set up an appointment with an accounting professional—most accountants offer free consultations.

Accountant salaries by city 

If you’re thinking of hiring an accountant in-house, you’ll need an idea of what to expect to pay them. Here are the average annual accountant salaries in the five biggest cities in the U.S.

  1. New York: $67,988 
  2. Los Angeles: $66,150
  3. Chicago: $72,336
  4. Houston: $69,037
  5. Phoenix: $65,21

Is it worth it to hire a CPA?

A good CPA may cost you more upfront, but they can pay off in the long run by helping you identify tax-savings opportunities, preparing the financial statements you need to get outside investors or loans, and providing advice to help your small business grow.

But not every business needs someone with a CPA certification. For example, if you have a small business with few transactions, a straightforward tax return, and little need for additional expertise, you may just need accounting software or bookkeeping help. If you have a basic understanding of tax laws, you might prepare your own tax return with the help of DIY tax software. However, you might want to consider working with a professional accountant if any of the following situations apply to you:

  • You need audited financial statements. Only a CPA can issue audited financial statements and an auditor’s report.
  • You plan on taking your company public someday. In the U.S., public companies are required to issue financial statements based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). GAAP is a set of 10 rules designed to help companies measure and report their financial performance in the same way, which helps investors analyze and compare one company’s financial statements to other organizations. Public companies are also required to have documented internal controls and follow other regulatory requirements. A CPA can help you comply with all requirements so you’re ready for an eventual initial public offering (IPO).
  • Your tax situation is complex. If you need a consolidated tax return, claim the Research and Development Tax Credit, or have other tax complications, a CPA can ensure your tax return is filed properly.
  • You have IRS problems. CPAs, Enrolled Agents (EAs), and tax attorneys are the only professionals that can represent taxpayers during an IRSaudit or tax dispute.
  • You need more in-depth advice. Many CPAs provide advisory and consulting services that extend beyond basic financial issues.

If you’re on a budget (and what small business owner isn’t?), here are some things you can do to make working with a CPA more affordable.

  • Build a long-term relationship. If you find a CPA you trust and enjoy working with, stay with them. When you work with the same CPA year after year, they gain a deep understanding of your business and how you operate. This makes it easier for them to provide customized advice or spot problems, such as rapidly rising costs, falling revenues, and even signs of employee fraud. Also, audit fees tend to be higher the first time a CPA firm performs a financial statement audit because the auditors have to spend more time understanding your business and industry and testing internal controls. Sticking with the same accounting firm year after year saves your auditor time, which can help keep costs low.
  • Be organized. Show up at your CPA’s office with a box of receipts and expect your accounting fees to be higher. It can take hours for your CPA to organize your receipts and financial documents into a tax-ready format, and they’ll charge you for that extra time. On the other hand, if your bookkeeping is accurate and organized, it saves your CPA a lot of time, whether they’re preparing your tax return or providing compiled, reviewed, or audited financial statements. This can lower your bill considerably.
  • Seek out proactive advice. Reach out to your CPA for advice before buying or selling a business, investing in fixed assets, hiring an employee, or making other big decisions. They can ensure you structure transactions in the most beneficial way possible.

Skip the accounting fees: DIY bookkeeping and accounting, but with risks

If your business is relatively small (or more of a side hustle), you may be able to handle your accounting on your own.

Over the last few years, online bookkeeping services have grown in popularity among small business owners. DIY accounting software, like QuickBooks or Xero, can ease the hassle of managing your books manually (though they’ll still require some work on your part).

DIY software allows you to import transactions from your bank accounts so you can categorize and track your income and expenses. They can also automatically prepare important financial statements, like a balance sheet or cash flow statement, based on the information you enter. The only catch? The software is only as reliable as the information you enter.

If you enter a number incorrectly and fail to notice it, you’ll end up with inaccurate financial reports and no clear insights into your business’s performance.

Learn more:

What services can an accountant provide?

Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs, are more than bookkeepers or number-crunchers: they can perform a wide range of finance-related tasks for your business.

While there are some basic financial tasks you can handle yourself, there are others that it’s best to leave to a professional.

An accountant can help you:

Pick a business structure that suits your needs

If you’re just starting your business, you might need help selecting a business structure. Whether it’s a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, your business structure will define how you protect assets, leverage costs, and pay taxes.

Different structures have different tax implications, and while it’s possible to convert your business to a different structure in the future, certain restrictions will apply. If you need help determining which is best for you, a good accountant can provide valuable guidance.

Create a business plan (save time)

It can be difficult to predict your future financial performance when you’re just starting your business, but investors will expect you to put in the work. Solid financial projections are an essential part of your business plan: they can help you plan your budget and set timelines for when you expect to become profitable.

Your financial projections can help convince potential investors of your business’s growth potential. However, if you’d like an expert to review your numbers, an accountant can help.

Helpful resource: How to Write Your First Business Plan

Prepare and file business taxes: Avoid tax mistakes or fines

Income tax returns become more complicated when you run your own business. Instead of paying your taxes at the end of the year, you’ll need to set up quarterly estimated tax payments. You’ll also need to track tasks like calculating capital gains, asset deductions, and fringe benefits tax.

If you’re not up to speed with current regulations for business taxes, it’s possible to fill out your taxes incorrectly and make costly mistakes. An accountant will prepare your tax returns to make sure you’ve minimized your tax liability. They can even represent you before the IRS in the rare case that you’re audited.

Learn more: How to Calculate & Pay Estimated Taxes

Accountants can help you save while cutting costs

Your CPA knows your income sources as well as your financial outgoings. By helping you monitor where your money is going, they can advise on where you can cut costs.

They will also assist with budgeting, internal controls, cash flow management, pricing, inventory strategies, lease-or-buy decisions, and other financial decisions to help your small business grow.

Helpful resource: 25 Ideas for Cutting Costs (Checklist)

Plan for the future

Your accountant can help you create the financial projections necessary for your business plan, but they can also use real data to help you track your progress and plan for the future. An accountant can use the insights gained from monitoring your financial records to help you set goals and determine your key performance indicators (KPIs).

By translating your financial data into business information, they will be able to provide expert advice on how to improve your performance and grow your business for the next fiscal year.

Bridge the gap in accounting(and accounting fees) with Bench Accounting

If you’re looking for a service to bridge the gap between DIY accounting software and a full-time accountant, Bench has you covered. In addition to monthly bookkeeping, we also offer tax filing and advisory services. Our tax advisors are always on hand to answer your tax questions and make a custom plan for your business. To learn more, check out our How It Works page. Bench Accounting will help you save additional costs such as: an accountant might require you to invest in a new software to help facilitate the job.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.
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