Let’s say the worst happens.
The IRS has decided to audit you, and you need someone to represent you.
To be fair, there’s a very long list of situations where this can happen, including all of these scenarios:
- Penalty relief
- Innocent spouse claims
- Adjustment of assessment
- Claim for refund
- Voluntary disclosure issues
- Asset forfeiture
- Anything to do with collections (levies, Currently Not Collectible, installment agreements, offers in compromise, bankruptcy)
- Complex examination
- Appeals Office matter
- Anything involving a potential criminal prosecution
But that doesn’t make it any less scary. And no matter what your problem is, you need good representation.
First of all, understand that there are several “levels” where you need representation. The first is the audit, where you present your case to the IRS, either on your own or with professional help. If you’re not satisfied with the results you get there, you can go on to file an appeal. If you don’t like the results you get THERE, you can go all the way to the top and take on Tax Court, where you “sue the IRS.”
You can pick who you want to defend you during this process – but make a wise choice.
Your tax preparer can represent you under very limited circumstances – only if they actually did your return and signed it. Their expertise will be very limited. Probably not a wise choice.
Certified Public Accountants are also pretty low on the tier of people you want defending you. They are trained in tax planning and examining financial statements, and they can handle a tax audit, but they can’t handle tax collection matters like foreclosure and lien proceedings. Quite simply, they don’t have the training. They can be very useful in preparing your case for the IRS, but don’t ask them to represent you at higher levels like an appeal or tax court.
In addition, not all CPAs are even qualified to represent you at an audit. They’re only permitted to do so if they have qualified as an Enrolled Agent (EA), a taxpayer representative who has “demonstrated technical competence in the field of taxation” and received a right to practice from the U.S. government.
CPAs must be EAs, but EAs don’t have to be CPAs in order to represent you. Does that make sense? ANYONE (not just a CPA) who has taken the government exam can qualify as an EA, and thus be technically permitted to represent you at an audit. EAs have the capability to prepare tax returns and handle routine audits – but once they get into more difficult tax collection areas like offers in compromise and liens, they are usually lost.
A tax attorney is the “gold standard” of representation (if you find the right one, of course). They can and do use input from EAs and CPAs in preparing their case, but they are qualified to handle complex tax collection matters all on their own. Offers in compromise, audits, payment agreements, potential criminal matters – the tax attorney can represent you no matter what your problem is.
If you have any questions, or need tax representation, give us a call at 844-841-9857, or schedule a free consultation here.