Tax Attorney or CPA? Who to Hire for Your Tax Help Needs

Published: 22nd February 2012
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With so many businesses advertising themselves as the answer to all of your tax questions, how can you choose the expert who’s right for your particular situation? Learn the key differences between a tax attorney and a certified public accountant, and assess who offers the services you need.


Both tax attorneys and certified public accountants are there for you during tax season. However, they don’t necessarily perform the same services. Depending on what type of tax assistance you need, you may be better off hiring either a tax attorney or a CPA. Assess your situation and research the services offered by local tax specialists to make a decision.

Tax Preparation Services

If you’re just filing a standard tax return and don’t anticipate there being any long-term issues related to the return, you don’t really need to bring in a tax attorney. A certified public accountant will be able to prepare and file your tax return and answer any tax-related questions you might have. An accountant can also advise you on organizing your tax-related papers to streamline your tax filing process in the future.

Financial Planning

CPAs will work with you to make the most of your personal finances. If you have financial goals—for instance, paying off your student loans or credit card debt within a certain number of years, or buying a home—a CPA can advise you on the steps you’ll have to take to make that happen. Additionally, an accountant can give you money-management advice that will benefit your daily life. Tax attorneys, on the other hand, are legal experts who may not take on clients for financial planning alone.

Back Tax Help

If you owe back taxes due to missing the tax filing deadline or underpaying, both accountants and tax lawyers can advise you on your payment options and help you file your back tax return. However, a tax attorney may have more knowledge of the nuances of tax law than a CPA. This law expertise can come in handy when you’re dealing with accumulated back taxes and penalties and don’t understand why you’re being penalized. A tax lawyer can clear up the convoluted legal language in state and federal tax codes and explain the array of repayment and negotiation options available to you.

IRS Negotiations and Court Proceedings

Tax attorneys are trained in negotiation techniques and will be able to present the facts of your specific situation to the IRS clearly and concisely. When you’re seeking wage garnishment cessation, penalty abatement, innocent spouse relief, or the lifting of a property lien or levy, you need a tax attorney as your advocate and guide through the process. A tax lawyer will also be able to speak on your behalf in court, if necessary. Finally, only a lawyer can claim attorney-client privilege, which means that the conversations you have with your tax lawyer are confidential.

Hiring a tax attorney is almost always significantly more expensive than hiring an accountant, because you’re paying for the lawyer’s legal expertise. Take your budget into account when choosing between the two. In general, the line between the services provided by tax attorneys and CPAs can be blurry—your local tax attorney may also offer standard tax preparation services, while you might find a CPA who is well versed in tax law. That’s why it’s always best to research the individual or firm you’re thinking of hiring, in addition to knowing what services you need.


Penny Jones is a money management guru and a senior Internet marketing strategist with Prospect Genius, a leader in local
online advertising
.


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