Small-business owners must choose among a bewildering array of accounting-service options when it's time to prepare tax returns and financial statements. (See table below.) While CPAs are the most expensive option, they're more than worth the cost, given the rigor of their training, peer review, and regulation. The AICPA publishes a directory of 6,000 member CPA firms, all of which provide their CPAs with at least 120 hours of continuing education every three years and undergo a peer review of accounting and auditing practices every three years. The directory is free; to order it call (800) 272-3476 (in New York, 212-575-6446). -- Researched by Chris Caggiano

Type of Services for Typical Training/
professional business fee regulation
Certified Prepare, audit, and certify $50-$250 B.A.;

public financials; tax preparation per hour rigorous CPA exam;

accountant and planning; advice on code of professional ethics;

management, M&A, and mandatory continuing

business sales; IRS-audit education


Accountant Tax preparation and $35-$200 No exam or licensing

planning; advice on per hour requirements; no

management (but cannot educational standards

represent at IRS audits

unless also an enrolled agent;

cannot certify financials)

Enrolled Can represent at IRS audits $40-$185 Special exam; continuing

agent per hour education requirements

Tax preparer Can fill out tax forms (can $20-$175 May have some training classes;

represent at IRS audits if an per hour in most states, no exam or licensing

enrolled agent) requirements