By Michael Rude
Learn more about Michael on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor
Battling the IRS over disputed taxes or other matters will probably never be on your Top 10 List of Fun Things to Do.
But instead of feeling overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty — which, under the circumstances, would certainly be understandable — focus on finding a qualified tax professional who can help you win your case.
Not sure how to find competent representation? Here are four tips to help you find the right tax expert, especially if you owe money to the IRS.
1. Be leery of any advertising or website offering IRS tax help that doesn’t clearly say that the company has an attorney, certified public accountant or enrolled agent on staff.
Only attorneys, CPAs and EAs can represent you before the IRS collections unit. For those who may be unfamiliar with EAs, enrolled agents these are tax experts certified by the IRS to represent taxpayers. You become an EA “by either passing a three-part comprehensive IRS test covering individual and business tax returns, or through experience as a former IRS employee,” the IRS explains on its website.
“Enrolled agents, like attorneys and certified public accountants, have unlimited practice rights,” the IRS adds. “This means they are unrestricted as to which taxpayers they can represent, what types of tax matters they can handle, and which IRS offices they can represent clients before.”
Check an EA’s good standing and license with the National Association of Enrolled Agents or with the IRS. Verify a CPA’s license with your state’s licensing board. Verify an attorney’s license with your state’s bar association.
2. Beware of companies that use salespeople to get you to commit to paying money before you speak with an EA, CPA or attorney at their firm. The company’s sales staff should also be able to provide an individual’s name and status as an EA, CPA or attorney.
3. Insist on speaking to the person who will handle your case before making any payment. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, and make sure you are comfortable with the person before retaining the company’s services.
4. Understand that most of the ads you see on TV offering IRS tax help are actually from marketing companies that sell your information to tax representation firms. They do not provide tax representation services before the IRS.
Exercising due diligence and common sense will go a long way when selecting the right company to represent you before the IRS and getting your tax problems resolved.
Image of IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C., via iStock.