The Definitive Guide to Tax Help

Everything you need to know about getting tax help

Get the tax help you need

Do you need help with your taxes? Dealing with your taxes can be difficult, especially considering all the recent changes to tax laws. But you’re in luck. Whether you need help with tax preparation, tax relief, or an audit, we’ve got the tax help you need.

1. Tax preparation and filing help

Enlisting a trained professional can reduce your stress and ensure the best possible outcome. But it’s important to choose the right one. So how do you decide who is the right fit for you?

Types of tax preparation help

According to the IRS, anyone with a preparer tax id number (PTIN) can prepare federal tax returns for compensation. However, not all are equal in skill, education, or expertise. One very important factor to consider is whether a preparer has “representation rights.”

What are representation rights?

The right of representation is the right for a tax preparer to represent their client before the IRS. That means that if any problems come up (like an audit or a payment issue), a preparer with representation rights can resolve the issue with the IRS on your behalf. If your tax preparer does not have representation rights and you get audited, you’re on your own.

Which tax preparers have unlimited representation rights?

Tax preparers with the following credentials will be able to represent you in all tax matters:

  • Enrolled agents: Agents who are licensed through the IRS’ Enrolled Agent Program have full representation rights. To get licensed, agents must undergo a suitability check, a three-part examination, and 72 hours of continuing education every three years.
  • Attorneys: Attorneys licensed by their designees (e.g. the state bar), state courts, or the District of Columbia can fully represent you with the IRS. Look for those that specialize in tax preparation and planning.
  • Certified public accountants (CPA): CPAs are accountants that passed the Uniform CPA Examination and are licensed by state boards of accountancy. Assuming your CPA’s license is up-to-date, they can represent you in front of the IRS. Again, look for those who specialize in tax planning and preparation.

In summary, you’ll secure the most protection if you work with enrolled agents, attorneys, and CPAs. In addition to full representation rights, they’ve also undergone extensive training to earn their titles. That means that they’ll be more knowledgeable and experienced than the average unlicensed tax professional.

Which tax preparers have limited representation rights?

Representation rights aren’t all-or-nothing. Some tax preparers can deal with the IRS on your behalf, but only in certain circumstances. Others cannot represent their clients before the IRS in any circumstances.

Let’s take a look at tax preparers who lack the above credentials:

  • Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP): The IRS created the Annual Filing Season Program for tax preparers who lack credentials, but still aspire to a higher level of professionalism. To gain a Program Record of Completion, preparers must complete 18 hours of continuing education, including a six-hour refresher course and test. If they pass, AFSP participants gain limited representation rights. These include the right to represent their clients before customer service representatives, revenue agents, the Taxpayer Advocate Service, and similar IRS employees.
  • PTIN holders: As of 2016, PTIN holders with no other professional credentials who fail to participate in the Annual Filing Season Program can’t represent taxpayers before the IRS in any manner.

If something goes wrong with a tax return that a professional prepared on your behalf, it can be problematic if that professional can’t represent you. You’ll have to answer for how they prepared your taxes, even if you don’t know exactly what they did.

Tax law is complex. Even if your tax preparer clearly explains their process and their choices, you may struggle to relay those reasons to the IRS. To avoid this situation, it’s best to hire a preparer with at least some representation rights.

Where can you find tax preparers?

Now that you know what to look for in a tax preparer, where can you find one?

IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers

The IRS has a directory of federal tax return preparers with credentials. These include enrolled actuaries with valid PTINs, CPAs, enrolled retirement plan agents, Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion recipients, and attorneys.

You can search by country, zip code, distance, and/or last name to find qualified tax preparers near you.

AARP Foundation tax help service

The AARP Foundation offers free tax preparation services from IRS-certified volunteers. If you need help with your taxes but can’t afford to pay a professional, this is a great option.

National tax preparation chains

National tax preparation chains are brick-and-mortar organizations where you can walk in and speak with qualified tax preparation specialists. Examples include Liberty Tax Service and H&R Block.

Online tax preparation services

Online software tax preparation services like Turbo Tax and FreeTaxUSA online platforms that streamline the tax prep process. They often feature user-friendly dashboards which guide you through the tax filing process.

Review and compare national chains and online services side-by-side below.

2. Tax relief help

If you owe more in taxes than you can afford, it’s time to pursue tax relief. But navigating the complex territory of payment plans and other options can be a serious challenge. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. The right tax relief firm can seriously improve your odds of finding a solution that works for you.

What are tax relief firms?

Tax relief firms are groups of professionals who are well-versed with tax law. They know all of your options and can negotiate with the IRS on your behalf to figure out a plan that works for you. Plus, tax firms can help you save money, get more time to pay, and avoid undesirable outcomes like court orders, levies, and wage garnishment.

How can tax relief firms help you save?

The IRS offers a variety of tax relief programs that tax relief firms can help you navigate, including:

  • Penalty relief: The removal or forgiveness of penalties charged for breaking IRS rules.
  • Payment plans: An agreement wherein you pay off your debt in a series of installment payments over time.
  • Debt reduction: If you can prove that you can’t pay the amount you owe, the IRS may agree to accept less than your total debt. This is called an offer in compromise.
  • Uncollectible status: If you can prove that you can barely afford to pay your basic living expenses, you can get put on Currently Not Collectible (CNC) status. This temporarily halts collection efforts.

Tax relief firms can help you find, apply, and qualify for the program that best fits your scenario.

What to look for in a tax relief company

When looking for a tax relief company, consider the following:

  • Services available: Find out what services the firm offers and how far their help extends. Do they just help you write correspondences, or will they actively negotiate on your behalf? Also, in-house servicing is a plus.
  • Expertise: For the highest level of expertise and representation, look for firms with CPAs and tax attorneys on staff.
  • Affiliations: Firms should be affiliated with oversight organizations like the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), the National Association of Tax Resolution Companies, etc. These organizations hold tax relief firms accountable.
  • Cost: Compare costs to ensure that a company’s pricing is competitive. Beware of hidden fees and look for free consultations and money-back guarantees.
  • Support: Seek out a company that offers multiple channels of support, e.g. live chat, phone support, email support, social media, blog, online resources, etc.
  • Reviews: Check reviews from past clients to see if the firm was able to resolve their issue efficiently and effectively.

Review and compare industry-leading tax relief firms below.

3. Tax help with audits

Last but not least, let’s talk about tax audits. 0.5% of all tax returns filed in 2016 were audited. That’s 1.1 million returns. While the odds of not getting audited are in your favor, it does happen. And when it does, you’ll want an expert on your side.

What happens when you get audited?

Let’s say the IRS has decided to audit your return.

First, they’ll send you a notification by mail. The notice will request that you set up an appointment for the audit in your home, in an IRS office, or in your place of business. They’ll let you know which documents you need to bring to your appointment.

By law, you can bring an authorized individual to represent you in the audit, though this is optional. After the audit is complete, the IRS will decide if you need to make any changes in your return. If they propose changes, you can either agree and make the changes or contest them.

An audit summons is a legally enforceable order, so it is in your best interest to respond promptly.

Do you need help with a tax audit?

If the IRS audits you, you are already at a disadvantage. That’s because an IRS agent is probably more educated about tax law than you are. Even if you do your taxes responsibly, it’s still possible that they could find an error that you missed. As such, it’s always advantageous to have an informed ally on your side.

What should you look for in a tax representative for an audit?

If you decide to hire a tax representative, it’s important to do so with discretion. You are putting your case in someone else’s hands, so you need to know that you can trust them.

Only choose a firm that has tax attorneys, CPAs, or enrolled agents on board, as they will have the necessary representation rights. And be sure to read reviews from past clients to find out their success rate.

Review and compare industry-leading tax firms that help with audits here.

This tax season, get the help you need

Do you need help with your taxes? Whether you need assistance filing taxes, navigating an audit, or tax relief, there is no shortage of options. All you need to do is review and compare your options with the above tips and information in mind. Then, find the best fit for your scenario.

Need help filing your taxes? Compare tax preparation firms here.

Looking for assistance with tax relief? Compare tax relief firms here.