Choosing the right tax relief company can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to know the tell-tale signs of reputable and competent tax relief companies. Easier said than done when you have never dealt with a tax relief company before. But when you’ve reviewed as many tax relief companies as I have, it’s easy to tell them apart.
By the end of this article, you also will know how to spot the best in the business. A little research and some well-chosen questions will help you identify which tax relief companies have what it takes to represent you before the IRS.
If you don’t care about the details and simply want our list of the best tax relief companies around, click here for our best picks. Continue reading if you’re interested in the methodology we used to select them. Don’t worry. It’s not rocket science. We’ve boiled it down to seven questions.
Does the tax relief company have licensed tax attorneys on staff?
Don’t compromise on this one. Only hire serious tax relief companies that employ licensed tax attorneys to represent their customers. Don’t just take their word for it either. Check their claims. Some tax relief companies claim to have tax attorneys as consultants or to be linked to a law firm purely as a marketing ploy. Look for tax relief firms that have tax attorneys who are licensed to practice in all 50 states.
These are the steps I take when reviewing a company
- Call or check the company’s website and find out how many tax attorneys they have on staff.
- For instance, Optima Tax Relief’s website publishes the names and resumes of eight of their attorneys.
- Get their names and ask which Bar associations they have joined.
- One of Optima’s tax attorneys is Michael Wenkart. He has an impressive resume that includes a B.S. in Business Administration, a J.D. and LL.M in taxation from the University of San Diego.
- Visit their Bar association’s website, and check their credentials and standing with the association. Do they work for the tax relief company that claims them? Are there any misconduct inquiries on their file? Have they received any disciplinary or administrative actions?
In this case, all the tax relief company’s claims checked out, and the lawyer had no disciplinary or administrative actions. However, if you were researching Roni Deutch’s tax relief website and looked up the founder’s profile with the State Bar of California, the results would be much more interesting.
Does the tax relief company have sufficient support staff?
Top tax relief companies also employ enrolled agents and tax preparers to assist their tax attorneys. Enrolled agents are federally licensed tax practitioners who specialize in taxation and are qualified to represent you before the IRS (Source).
What is the status of their enrolled agents?
Ask whether any enrolled agents will be working on your case. If so, ask for their full names and enrolled agent numbers. Email the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org and request verification of their status. You should receive a reply within three days.
Does the tax relief firm have a money-back guarantee?
Although most tax relief companies offer a free initial consultation, only a few provide a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the service they provide. Notice these guarantees will typically only last for one or two weeks and apply exclusively to the fees incurred during the investigating phase of your case. However, even a short money-back guarantee period provides significant advantages.
First, it gives you the peace of mind of working with a firm that is confident about the quality of its customer service. Second, it gives you the time you need to get to find out who will be working on your case, so you can check their credentials and licensing status.
What type of tax relief services does the company offer?
Some companies specialize in just a few tax relief services. This is either because they don’t have the necessary training or because they choose to focus on faster tax relief strategies with broader profit margins.
These are some of the tax relief services a self-respecting company should provide.
A negotiated settlement for less than the full amount owed to the IRS.
You are entitled to a review of your tax liability if you don’t agree with the IRS’ assessment.
The IRS’ collection appeals program allows you to question a tax assessment without having to go to tax court.
If you can’t afford to pay your tax debt in full, you can request a payment plan. However, there are penalties associated, and interest continues to accrue until paid in full.
This is a special type of installment agreement that allows you to pay less than the full amount owed to the IRS.
The IRS can collect payments directly from your employer. The wage garnishments will continue until the debt is paid or the IRS accepts a wage garnishment release.
The IRS imposes particularly severe penalties on companies that withhold taxes from their employees but don’t pay them to the IRS. Tax relief companies can help negotiate affordable repayment plans.
If the IRS places liens on the property of tax, you won’t be able to sell it or use it as collateral in a loan. Tax relief companies can help remove liens by negotiating a repayment plan.
Penalties for not following IRS tax laws can add up quickly. In some cases, they represent more than half the tax debt owed.
The IRS can take money directly from your bank if you’re late on your tax payments. However, you can appeal and ask the IRS to release the levy.
Taxpayers who feel their tax debt is due to a mistake made by their spouses (current or former) can request relief from the tax liability and any related penalties.
The best tax relief companies provide expert advice when clients are being audited by the IRS. Remember that, unlike accountants and enrolled agents, tax lawyers enjoy attorney-client privilege when assisting clients with tax problems.
Top tax relief companies will provide both help with both state and federal tax problems.
Typically, the IRS has three years to assess a taxpayer’s tax liability and 10 years to collect payment.
In some cases, the financial situation of taxpayers is so bad they cannot afford to make monthly payments. If your request for currently not collectible status is successful, the IRS will stop any collection activities.
Companies that offer IRS audit defense and can deal with both state and federal taxes are rare. Treat those services as indicators of tax relief companies that can deal with more complex cases.
If you own a company, make sure the tax relief company you choose has experience dealing with payroll tax and is familiar with business tax relief strategies. Look for firms with CPAs and tax attorneys with a background in business.
What accreditation does the tax relief firm have?
As with most industries, the tax relief business has trade associations that set best-industry-practices and help members with education and training. Therefore, serious tax relief companies join trade associations and play a leading role in setting business standards. Top firms also invest in third-party accreditation and endorsements.
Look for tax relief firms that:
- Are IRS approved continuing education providers.
The IRS authorizes these companies to offer official educational programs to tax professionals.
- Are members of the National Association of Tax Professionals.
The NATP sets industry best practice standards and offers members tax research and education services.
- Have good consumer ratings. Check their user reviews on SuperMoney.
Although it’s not a guarantee of excellence, a company’s user reviews will give you an idea of how many complaints a company receives.
- Have enrolled agents who are certified by the National Association of Enrolled Agents.
The NAEA provides education, training programs, and other services to enrolled agents.
What payment options does the tax relief firm offer?
Accredited tax relief companies that employ tax attorneys and enrolled agents will charge between $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the complexity of your tax problems. However, you may not have that kind of cash lying around. Choose a tax relief company that offers the options of flexible payments without charging interest or any other financing fees.
Accredited tax relief companies that employ tax attorneys and enrolled agents will charge between $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the complexity of your tax problems.
Does the tax firm make unrealistic promises?
If a tax relief firm promises it can make your tax problems disappear or if it guarantees you will pay pennies on the dollar of your tax debt, run. No tax relief firm can guarantee what the outcome of your case will be. Tax firms can reduce your debt drastically, help you waive penalties, and arrange for affordable installment programs. However, a lot depends on your personal financial circumstances and the IRS’s determination to pursue your case.
Skilled tax professionals will help you present your case in the best way possible and apply for the best tax relief programs available. But they can’t change the facts of your case. Avoid companies that guarantee they can solve your tax problems or reduce your tax debt. Be particularly careful with companies that make outrageous claims and require upfront payments before they start working on your case.
You have a lot of options when shopping for a tax relief company. Not all companies have the expertise or resources to represent you effectively before the IRS. Finding the best firm for your case can be a challenge. This guide describes the methodology SuperMoney used to pick the best tax relief firms.
Here’s a summary of the questions you should ask when considering a tax relief company.
- Does the tax relief company have licensed tax attorneys on staff?
- Do they have sufficient support staff?
- Does the tax relief company have a money-back guarantee?
- What type of tax relief services does the company offer?
- Does the tax firm have the right accreditations?
- What payment options does the tax relief firm offer?
- Does the company make unrealistic promises?
Andrew is the managing editor for SuperMoney and a certified personal finance counselor. He loves to geek out on financial data and translate it into actionable insights everyone can understand. His work is often cited by major publications and institutions, such as Forbes, U.S. News, Fox Business, SFGate, Realtor, Deloitte, and Business Insider.