Tax Attorney vs. CPA: What’s the Difference?

When you’re dealing with something as complicated as taxes, you need a specialist who can meet your needs with surgical precision. Even then, not every tax professional is the same. Take, for instance, certified public accountants (CPAs) and tax attorneys; while both of these professionals have deep knowledge of intricate issues, they occupy distinct roles for taxpayers. In this blog, we’ll dive deeper into the distinctions between tax attorneys and CPAs. 

What are the Similarities?

Both of these tax professionals can assist with tax preparation by advising you on general tax liabilities and ways you can minimize your tax liability. Additionally, both CPAs and tax attorneys can ensure you follow the obvious, more prominent provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. It’s not uncommon for these professionals to work in concert with each other while dealing with a client’s tax circumstances, either. From there, though, the duties and skill sets diverge. 

What Can a Tax Attorney Do That a CPA Cannot?

For starters, a tax attorney has graduated from law school and passed the bar exam in at least one state. Tax attorneys emphasize their knowledge of local, state, and federal tax laws in their practices. Most importantly, they are able to evaluate case laws, Private Letter Rulings, and other tax statutes regarding specific tax issues, and advise clients on the effect these laws have on a client’s specific tax situation. While CPAs also spend years in post-graduate studies and pass state exams, their knowledge of tax laws, policies, and procedures is not usually as extensive as an attorney. 

Tax attorneys are licensed to represent taxpayers in court — including U.S. Tax Court, whereas CPAs cannot. They also typically represent taxpayers during audits. A notable advantage of retaining a tax attorney is the existence of attorney-client privilege. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to have a tax attorney if you might be dealing with tax issues and disputes where it is advantageous to shield communications regarding your tax issue with the attorney-client privilege. If not, your CPA could be called to testify in court and all communications between you and your CPA are discoverable in court by the IRS or other tax authorities. 

What Can a CPA Do That a Tax Attorney Cannot?

While plenty of tax attorneys (including Tyler Q. Dahl) provide consultative tax services, CPAs thrive when working out a long-term financial plan amidst complex business and personal financial matters. CPAs also specialize in providing precise accounting advice and working out simple tax issues for taxpayers. 

A CPA is more likely to be the tax professional who prepares your annual tax returns, quarterly taxes, and other routine documents. They may also perform internal audits of your business or personal finances and alert you of any basic issues. While a tax attorney can almost undoubtedly provide these services, a CPA is often more cost effective. 

Have More Questions? We’ll Be Glad to Answer Them

The line between a CPA’s and tax attorney’s duties is blurred in many areas. Our firm’s attorney, Tyler Q. Dahl, is a Certified Tax Coach — one of fewer than 100 attorneys nationwide who can claim this designation. We are well-equipped to handle a diverse array of tax needs. To find out what we can do for you, contact our team today.

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Dahl Law Group

At Dahl Law Group, we’re not just a law firm. We’re your trusted advisor for your business and family from beginning to end. As your family and business grow, we will be there by your side. Our passion is providing you with peace of mind and protection through personalized estate and business planning.