Who Has Ownership of the QuickBooks File?

Jay writes:

Dear Jennifer – Who has ownership of the QuickBooks file, me or my accountant? I don’t want to work with my accountant anymore, and this is what he told me when I requested the file:

“I can return your records that you submitted to me at any time. I can give you a paper general ledger after clarifying some transactions with you that are in suspense. I cannot release an incomplete QuickBooks file because of firm quality control policies.”

The incompleteness he refers to is because I no longer wish to employ him to bring my books up to date. Does he have any legitimate basis on which to withhold my QB file? Thanks for any help.

My reply:

This is a hum dinger Jay! I’ve never seen this asked before. You know why? Because it’s customary in my industry that the client owns the file. I’ve never heard of the accountant refusing to give the QB file to the client. I do have a few thoughts about your situation:

1. Do you owe him any money? Even though he must return your business papers to you, such as check registers, bank statements, etc., he might be unwilling to part with the QB file if owe him money. If you do owe him money I suggest you pay him before proceeding with any of these other suggestions.

2. Did you sign a contract with him when you hired him? The contract may state that his firm retains ownership of clients’ QuickBooks files.

3. My thoughts on his policy:

  • Were you alerted to this policy when you hired him? Since it’s customary that the client owns the file, if you were not alerted to this policy right from the beginning then you had no reason to believe otherwise.
  • Ask to see the policy in writing. Make sure there is one.

4. Who started the QB file – you or him? In other words, did you already have a QB file that you gave to him, or did he start this file from scratch? If you started the file, then you can remind him that it was already yours when you gave it to him, therefore he should return it to you any time you ask for it.

5. Address his concerns. It sounds like he’s concerned about unclassified transactions in the Suspense account. Tell him that you can take care of those. All that means is that there are banking and credit card transactions that he didn’t know what they were for.

I’m not sure what he means by an “incomplete QB file.” Since there are always new transactions to record, we can argue that any QB file is incomplete at any given time! But I suggest you ask him what he means. Then you may know better how to address it.

These next three options are for last resort only. Try do do the others first before doing these.

5. Contact your state accountancy board for clarification and recourse. I suggest starting with NASBA, as they provide contact information for each state’s Board of Accountancy in the United States. Search for your state and contact the board that governs it.

6. Tell him you’re going to contact the state accountancy board before doing so. This alone may persuade him to give it to you.

7. Contact a lawyer. If the accountant does not budge, and if you really, really, want the QuickBooks file, your last recourse may be legal action.

Good luck Jay and thanks for writing!

Jennifer Thieme's signature

Leave a Reply