There are many different methods of filing one's personal (or business) taxes with the state and federal authorities each year. They roughly fall into three main categories: registered tax agents, Certified Public Accounts (CPAs), and tax attorneys. Registered tax agents are exactly what they sound like — individuals who are registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prepare taxes. CPAs must possess a college undergraduate degree and also pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. Tax attorneys must possess a Juris Doctorate degree and also pass the local state's Bar Examination in order to practice tax law. And, while each of these three categories might have a certain amount of overlap in the fact they all deal with filing taxes, in reality, they each play a very distinct role in that process.

Tax attorneys

Most people, for example, probably wouldn't need a tax attorney to help with the process of filing taxes. Usually, the main benefit of hiring a tax attorney on retainer is that they are experts at helping with dealing with the IRS when one possesses more complicated assets or a tax filing that includes more esoteric tax situations. The main other reason most people would hire a tax attorney would be as legal representation regarding an audit by a tax authority or a tax-related criminal charge.


CPA's, on the other hand, are adept at the technical process of the preparation of tax paperwork. Typically they will work at the practical standpoint of both making calculations as well as applying any relevant tax code regulation towards any specific tax issue. CPAs' skills are highly expert, yet most people generally don't find themselves in a situation where it would be necessary to hire a CPA. Individuals with higher annual incomes, substantial non-liquid assets (such as real estate), or more off-the-beaten-path tax situations (e.g. foreign investments, precious artwork, significant philanthropic donations, etc.) would usually tend to benefits from a CPA's expertise. Additionally, CPAs are commonly retained by individuals who file both individual taxes as well as business taxes.

Registered Tax Agents

Registered tax agents are by far the most common form of tax preparation service utilized by the majority of American tax filers. Like CPAs, they deal with the technical process of calculating and preparing taxes but tend to deal with more common tax situations. If a scenario is complex enough, a tax agent might actually refer someone to a CPA or tax attorney (depending on the situation). Traditionally, tax agents worked in brick-and-mortar locations and dealt exclusively in face-to-face consultations. Today, however, most tax agents work virtually, and there are myriad tax preparation software services available online that allow an individual to prepare their own taxes with the virtual assistance of a registered tax agent, if they so choose.

Reach out to a tax preparation service in your area for more information.