• Robert Patin

What’s the Difference Between Working with a CPA Versus a Tax Attorney?

Certified Public Accountants and tax attorneys are both professionals who can help you resolve your tax issues in compliance with federal and/or state laws. However, there is a big difference between when to hire one versus the other.

Below we explore the qualifications and responsibilities of CPAs and tax attorneys, and in which situations you may need their expertise.

How a Certified Public Accountant can help you

A Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, is a financial advisor who has earned his or her license from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. To become a CPA, candidates must:

  • Complete five years of business education

  • Pass a rigorous CPA exam

  • Complete a minimum of 120 continuing education hours every three years

The people you work with at tax preparation firms are not always CPAs. While they have had many hours of tax preparation training, CPA is a hard-earned designation indicating the accountant’s knowledge and experience.

A CPA is best suited for helping you with complicated tax situations. For example, if you own a business, own rental properties or have a large amount of money in investments, a CPA can help you manage the many moving parts of your return while still maximizing your refund/minimizing your payment. CPAs are well-versed in federal and state tax law and will keep you in compliance to help you avoid an audit. Speaking of audits – if you find yourself the subject of one, a CPA can help there too.

If you’re looking for a financial professional with whom you can develop a relationship and who will grow to understand your unique financial situation year after year, hiring a CPA is an excellent choice. CPAs not only help with your annual tax return, but also other ongoing financial services.

How a tax attorney can help you

While tax attorneys also help clients with their taxes, their background and expertise are quite different. Tax attorneys are legal professionals, whose training includes:

  • A law degree from an accredited law school

  • Passing the state bar exam

Some tax attorneys have additional certification in their state. Requirements vary by state but may include practicing tax law for a certain amount of time, completing a minimum number of hours of continuing education and passing a written exam.

Tax attorneys handle legal tax matters, such as settling back taxes and unfiled returns, fixing property liens, helping with wage garnishment and negotiating settlement terms. Tax attorneys are an important resource if you are in any kind of trouble with the IRS.

Like most attorneys, tax attorneys have further specializations to help you with your specific situation. If your issue is around property tax or estate tax, you’ll want to find someone with experience handling these issues.

Ultimately, tax attorneys are able to help you dig out of trouble and are an ally when dealing with the IRS.

At Patin & Associates we have a team of financial professionals here to help you with your tax needs. Contact us today to get started.


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