When you find yourself facing IRS problems you have many different options available for representation. They are:
- Certified Public Accountant
- Enrolled Agent
- Certified Tax Resolution Specialist
- Unenrolled tax preparers
Self-representation is just what it means. You represent yourself. It’s usually not a good idea. In fact, it’s probably a bad idea. Representing yourself (or not representing yourself) is probably what got you into trouble with the IRS in the first place. You’re not trained. You might only have contact with the IRS once in your life. You don’t want to get it wrong.
Certified Public Accountant
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is licensed by a state. It’s usually the state where they live or practice. They can only become a CPA after graduating from college with a required number of credits in accounting courses and additional business courses. In order to become a CPA, they have to pass the CPA exam and have additional education and work experience requirements as required by that state. They also are required to take continuing education courses each year in order to maintain and improve their skills.
An attorney is also licensed by a state. As with a CPA it’s usually in the state where they live or practice. They also need to graduate from college and then go on to graduate from law school. They have to pass the bar exam in their state in order to become licensed and have additional education and work experience requirements as required by that state. They also are required to take continuing education courses each year in order to maintain and improve their skills.
An Enrolled Agent (EA) is a tax practitioner authorized to represent taxpayers before the IRS. In order to become an EA, they have to pass an exam administered by the IRS or be employed by the IRS for a certain number of years. They are also required to take continuing education courses each year in order to maintain and improve their skills.
Certified Tax Resolution Specialist
A Certified Tax Resolution Specialist (CTRS) is accredited by the American Society of Tax Problems Solvers (ASTPS). The ASTPS is the only non-profit, national, professional association of practitioners dedicated to solving tax problems. In order to obtain the CTRS designation you must first be a CPA, attorney, or EA. You also need experience in the field of tax resolution representation and have to pass an exam administered by the ASTPS. Continuing education courses are also required to maintain and improve their skills.
Unenrolled Tax Preparers
Unenrolled tax preparers can prepare a tax return and have a limited ability to talk to the IRS about a return they prepared. They are not allowed to represent a taxpayer. They have no educational or experience requirements. In fact, they might not have any real knowledge of the tax laws. This is your neighbor, friend or relative looking to make a few dollars during the tax filing time.
Who you choose to represent you is your decision. Just because that person is a CPA, attorney or EA does not mean they have the qualifications to represent you. Do your homework. Ask around. Investigate them. This is a big step and you need to choose wisely. Engaging the wrong person could be catastrophic. Don’t shop prices. Shop shills. You wouldn’t have a dermatologist perform brain surgery on you or have a real estate attorney represent you in a murder trial.