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Tax Attorney vs CPA

Posted by Maverick Rork | Jan 26, 2022 | 0 Comments

Which one can provide the best IRS help when I need to solve a tax problem?

Travis Watkins, tax attorney, talking to you today about the differences between two types of professionals that can talk to the IRS on a taxpayer's behalf: the tax attorney versus the CPA or certified public accountant, which one can provide the best IRS help when I need to solve a tax problem?

That's the question that we get all the time at my office at Travis Watkins Tax and thought this would be a great time to kind of break that down for everybody. We're talking about IRS health professionals, in other words, which professional is the best one to hire when I owe the IRS and want to save on taxes? So to be clear here, full disclosure, I am a tax attorney. I am somewhat biased. I'm not a CPA, but I've done thousands of tax resolution cases. And I think I've seen, you know, enough to know kind of what the difference is as it relates to tax resolution folks. To be clear even more, we're talking about tax resolution, taxpayers that are in trouble with the IRS right now. In other words, we're not doing tax planning, those ships have already sailed. We are talking about being in the throes of an IRS problem at the IRS. So, look at everything under that lens and hopefully that's you. These also are very general things. These are not across the board things. They are observations of a tax attorney that has been in the trenches with the IRS for over 20 years, and this is what we've seen.

We're talking about five different types of tax professionals here that can talk to the IRS on a taxpayer's behalf.

There are tax attorneys, of course. There are these certified public accountants, CPAs. There are a class of professionals called enrolled agents. We're not talking about those folks today. There are also enrolled retirement plan agents - not talking about them. There are enrolled actuaries as well. That's five. We're not talking about those folks. We're talking about tax attorney vs CPA today.

All right, let me talk to you, first, about what are the similarities between, the tax attorney and the CPA? First of all, we're talking about very well educated, well-schooled, I guess folks, people that have been through plenty of learning at the college level, first of all. Then taking an exam to be able to talk to the IRS. The CPA does 150 hours of college credit and passes the uniform CPA examination. That's got four parts. It's got auditing and business environment and concepts, financial accounting, and reporting and regulation. Okay. That's what the CPA must go through in order to be able to represent a taxpayer. The tax attorney, on the other hand, in my state, at least, we have to have, a college degree, got to have three years of law school, and you've got to take a two part bar examination. The first part is the multi-state bar examination. That's a multiple choice test that everybody that's taking the bar exam on particular day in America is all taking this at the same time, although different orders in the tests, it tests knowledge over everything that we learned in law school, including civil procedure contracts and all those things that we learned in law school. Day two of the bar examination is usually a state specific law examination. Some states have three parts or three days of bar examination, such as Texas.

The main similarity between the tax attorney and the CPA is that both can talk to the IRS for a taxpayer to accomplish IRS help. And that means something beyond just calling the IRS phone number or IRS customer service phone number to obtain IRS customer service which most taxpayers could do on their own if you've got the time to talk to them and the patience to be hung up on, et cetera at the IRS. So again, that's what we're talking about here. Both types of tax professionals can talk to the IRS on taxpayers' behalf. Third, most CPAs and tax attorneys deal with self-employed individuals. When we're talking about tax resolution W2, wage earners don't seem to get in nearly as many entanglements with the IRS at this level. We're usually talking about people that own their own businesses or 1099 folks. So, that's the last similarity between the CPA and the tax attorney.

Let's talk about the differences. In my experience, CPAs are capable of dealing with tax resolution, of course, and able to talk to the IRS. Although it's been my experience that they are better for tax issues related to tax planning, sometimes forensic type accounting. In other words, looking historically at something, going back in someone's financial past and solving the problem, solving an issue in that regard also audits they're all skilled at audits. In other words, the mechanics of a tax problem. And what I mean by that, usually when we're, when we're talking about tax in the tax resolution environment, CPAs are just much better when there are numbers at issue. In other words, I don't owe the tax is the taxpayer's position. And it's going back in time and figuring out what the arguments are and the actual proof to show that either a tax isn't owed or less tax should be owed.


Attorneys, on the other hand, tax attorneys in the tax resolution niche deal with situations where most of the time the tax itself is not at issue. In other words, I'm not as a taxpayer saying that I don't know the tax, that's a foregone conclusion at this point. We deal with folks when we know that there's a tax owed and the taxpayer is in trouble, they're looking for alternatives to collection. In other words, looking for something short of Levy's liens, seizure of assets, et cetera.

So, CPA better for things that relate generally to I don't owe. Tax attorneys better at I owe the tax, but there's some argument for why the IRS can't collect it all in the time that has to collect it, or there should be some other alternative, like a partial pay installment agreement, for instance, an offer and compromise, some type of IRS settlement.

Attorneys are just natural advocates in my experience. In other words, we've gone through law school, a lot of us have done other types of law. For instance, I was a commercial litigator for 10 years before going all in with tax resolution. I brought with me from that niche the ability to advocate effectively for a client to write on their behalf, to speak on their behalf and to fight the IRS. It's something that is kind of baked into the attorney's education and experience. It's something that the CPA doesn't necessarily bring to the table.

Finally, and most importantly, the difference between tax attorneys and CPAs is that a tax attorney can go to court. And what that means is the IRS can be held accountable for any decision or action that it makes because the IRS always looks at high level decisions in terms of what are the likelihoods, what's the likelihood that we're going to end up in court over this issue that making this decision that we're making relating to this taxpayer? That takes resources from the government that takes time. It takes them away from other tasks that they're supposed to be administering there at the IRS that they're weighing their decisions based on will this taxpayer who may be represented by a tax attorney going to take us to court?

CPAs, the other designations that we talked about, they are not able, as of right, like an attorney is to go straight to tax court. Something like 20 or so I think CPAs and other enrolled agents and all those other things that we talked about, take the exam. You must take an exam at tax court, if you're not an attorney, to be able to practice and advocate there. And very few of those other designations go through with that. So, if you're hiring a tax attorney, they have as of right that tool in their toolbox to be able to represent you and take the IRS to task, hold them accountable in court.

Here at Travis Watkins Tax, we have both types of professionals. We have CPAs, we have tax attorneys, we have enrolled agents as well. All these designations can practice in all 50 states. However, you don't have to make the decision. Should I hire this professional or this type of professional because we've got, them all here at our office. And we put those folks to work in the best capabilities that they have that I've discussed to get the best possible deal for you, if you owe the IRS. For more information on this, if you've got further questions or you'd like to talk with us further about representing you, with a tax problem, see the information in the description below to talk to one of our IRS help experts to get you some help and relief today!

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About the Author

Maverick Rork

Chief Operating Officer / Director of Marketing Maverick is the marketing director here at Travis W. Watkins Tax Resolution & Accounting Firm. He graduated from Choctaw High School and went on to play collegiate baseball at two different schools (NJCAA Div. II All-American). Later, he graduated ...


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