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small business taxes /
small business accounting /
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When to Hire a Tax Attorney vs. An Accountant

March 10th, 2024 | 4 min. read

By Bryan Cremeen

When you own a small business, it can be hard to know who to partner with for certain situations. What’s the difference between a tax attorney and an accountant? How do you know when you need to work with each of them?

At CSI Accounting & Payroll, we’ve worked with small business taxes for over 50 years. We’ve spoken to tons of business owners who want to know if they need a tax attorney or an accountant for the following situations:

  • Filing taxes
  • Income tax audits
  • Tax court

Blog - When to Hire a Tax Attorney vs. An Accountant

Who to File Taxes With

This is the lowest-stakes situation that someone may consider partnering with a tax attorney for. While most people stick to good old-fashioned CPAs, some people will have a tax attorney file their annual taxes. 

After all, many tax attorneys advertise that they offer this service, and they cost about the same as working with an accountant.

People who file taxes with tax attorneys may think that they’re safer to work with (less likely to make errors) because of the attorney title. However, this isn’t true – it depends on who you work with, of course.

Since the tax filing service is the same, we would not advise someone to partner with a tax attorney instead of an accountant. (The exception to this is if they owe a significant amount of taxes and are seeking an offer in compromise .) 

Who to Help With Income Tax Audits

When it comes to income tax audits, there are different options because there are different levels of audits. Luckily, most audits don’t make it all the way to tax court, which we tackle in the next section.

Most accountants don’t offer audit representation – and the ones that do usually charge extra for the coverage. 

However, CSI includes agent-level audit representation in our service at no extra charge. Plus, if we’re preparing your monthly sales tax returns, we will also represent you in a sales tax audit. That’s a good enough reason to partner with an accountant to cover future audits!

Who to Take to Tax Court

If an audit somehow lands you in tax court, an accountant can’t help you. You can choose to contact the IRS yourself, but we don’t recommend it. In this scenario, you’ll want to partner with a tax attorney.

Whether you committed fraud deliberately, were accused of fraud by the IRS, or didn’t respond to a letter (and the subsequent deficiency notice) from the IRS in time, tax court is the IRS’s last attempt to get the conflict resolved. 

A tax attorney can tell you how to prepare and what evidence to bring to support your case. But don’t fret – tax court won’t be a jail sentence! The worst-case scenario is that you’ll still owe the taxes, penalties, and interest that you owed before, plus court costs and attorney fees.

Partner With the Right Tax Expert for Your Situation

Now that you know about when you’ll need an accountant or a tax attorney for tax filing, audits, and tax court, are you ready to check out monthly accounting services? Even if you need an attorney, a monthly accountant can be useful to avoid future problems, too.

If so, please consider CSI Accounting & Payroll! To see if we can be a good fit for your business, click the button below for a free consultation:

Not ready to talk? That’s okay! First, learn more about what it’s like to work with CSI by clicking the image below:

Bryan Cremeen

Bryan joined CSI Accounting in 2019. He joined the team after CSI purchased his accounting firm, AccountSource LLC, which he had owned since 2005. He graduated from St. Cloud State in 2001 with a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting and has been an Enrolled Agent since 2010. Before owning his own accounting practice, Bryan had worked at the State of MN handling financial reporting and had been in private industry as a Controller. His primary responsibilities include overseeing the accounting department and making sure clients are receiving quality service. Fun Fact: Bryan has played soccer since the age of 4. He still plays soccer year round through various adult leagues and is an avid supporter of the Minnesota United MLS soccer team. COYL!!! (Come on, you Loons!!!)