Finding A Good Tax Attorney, Tax CPA, or Tax EA to Fix Your IRS Tax Problems

By Matthew J. Previte CPA
July 6, 2011

Finding a competent tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA to represent you before the IRS can be a daunting task. Fixing IRS tax problems is a tricky business left to those who do it full time year round. Although any attorney, CPA, or EA (enrolled agent—takes 2 day test on federal taxes given by the U.S. Treasury) is legally allowed to represent you before the IRS, not every attorney, CPA, or EA is qualified or competent enough to do so. IRS tax problems are a specialty requiring full time dedication to learning how the IRS works and how to work within that system to fix IRS tax problems.

Very few attorneys have any experience in dealing with the IRS on a daily basis much less a few times a year. Although some attorneys pursue and obtain a Master of Laws degree (LLM), this does not necessarily mean they know how to resolve IRS tax problems since most Masters programs in Taxation have but one general survey course on IRS practice and procedure. A good tax attorney will have represented hundreds or thousands of people with IRS tax problems before the IRS and rarely will they practice in this area less than full time.

CPAs and EAs are also legally able to represent taxpayers before the IRS. Although most are competent in preparing tax returns, most CPAs and EAs do not have any experience in fixing IRS tax problems on a regular basis. They are lucky if they see one or two cases a year. CPAs and EAs greatly shy away from taking on an IRS tax problem client because they have no experience resolving messy complicated IRS tax problems or they fear they won’t get paid since the client owes huge amounts of money to the IRS.

One of the first things you should do in searching for a competent tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA is Google their name. See if there are any negative articles or postings on websites about them. If you find a lot of complaints or bad reviews, beware! A good tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA should have very few if any complaints out there. Check also with their state licensing board to see whether any complaints have been filed against them.

Second thing you should do is make sure they have a current license. This is easy enough to check out online as most state licensing boards post the names of licensees and whether or not their license is current or has expired. If you are researching an EA, you will have to call the IRS Director of Practice in Washington D.C. or look on their website (

Next, I would check out their website. What type of content do they have. Do they give you their address, phone number, and email address. Many tax resolution firms on the net only have a contact page for you to email them your name and address and a description of your IRS tax problem. They have no information about who they are, key officers or employees, where they are located, etc. This should be a tip off that you’re dealing with a fly by night operation. If their site has little content or makes guarantees about what they can achieve, even without getting any information from you, watch out! There are a lot of scam artists and snake oil salesmen on the internet. Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

The size of the organization should also be a clue as to how you will be treated. Large national tax resolution firms usually operate on volume. Their goal is to sell as many people as they can usually with little or no regard to actually providing good service and most importantly fixing your IRS tax problems. Their salespeople are almost never tax attorneys, tax CPAs, or tax EAs but unqualified sales reps who haven’t the foggiest idea of how to fix even the most basic of tax problems. Oh sure, they will tell you all the right things to make you believe their tax resolution firm can make all your IRS tax problems go away. Problem is, they haven’t a clue as to nature of your IRS tax problem and how to fix it since they have absolutely zero experience fixing IRS tax problems. They’re sales reps! A small tax resolution firm will have experienced tax attorneys, tax CPAs, and/or tax EAs on staff to answer calls from prospective clients. This assures that the prospective client with the IRS tax problem is speaking with a licensed tax professional who understands IRS tax problems and how to fix them.

The quality of service that large tax resolution firms offer tends to be haphazard, inconsistent, and unreliable. Small tax resolution firms are much more suited to providing great service since they are able to respond quickly without clients getting lost in the shuffle. Without all the layers of management and bureaucracy that large national firms have, small tax resolution firms can deal with issues in a more timely manner. Large national firms often give you an unlicensed “case representative” as your point of contact instead of the licensed tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA who is actually representing you. This is a big red flag. If you can’t have access to the licensed tax professional actually representing you, run away as fast as you can. You WILL experience frustration since you will almost never speak, if at all, with the licensed tax professional representing you.

One other issue that should be discussed is the location of the tax resolution firm. There are national firms and local firms. Which would you rather hire, a firm hundreds or thousands of miles away or a local firm you can actually meet with face to face. There is nothing like looking someone in the eye to get a sense of their honesty and integrity. Seeing their office in person will tell you how they run their operation. Does it appear to be smoothly operating or in a state of chaos. A local firm is also much more accountable since they live and work in the community or state where you live. Maintaining their reputation is far more important than a firm thousands of miles away. I would exercise extreme caution hiring anyone you can’t hop in the car and meet with face to face. That doesn’t mean work can’t be done via fax, phone, email, and Fedex. However, meeting your tax representative face to face at least once before you hire them tells you a lot about them, their firm, and how you can expect to be treated after you hire them to fix your IRS tax problems.

So before hiring any tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA to help you fix your IRS tax problems, check them out carefully and spend the time to look in depth at their track record, any complaints on the web or with state licensing boards (the IRS Director of Practice if an EA). And, use your gut. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your due diligence and get educated on the different types of resolutions available to people with IRS tax problems. That way, you will be able to sort out the scam artists and snake oil salemen from the good competent licensed tax professionals out there.

Lots of Big Stars Are in Big Trouble With the Tax Man

By Lindsay Carlton
Published March 21, 2011|

March 26, 2010: Al Pacino poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Despite their high-priced tax attorneys and mega-millions, big stars can find themselves in big trouble come tax time.

Take Hollywood director Martin Scorsese. He was recently nailed with a $2.85 million bill for unpaid taxes. Scorsese was charged for past-due tax and related interest penalties. Although Scorsese’s spokeswoman Leslee Dart says the entire amount is now paid in full and that he has no current IRS debts, sources say the Oscar-winning director’s tax woes are due to his dealings with celebrity accountant Kenneth Starr. Starr was jailed for seven and a half years for a $33 million ponzi scheme, and has duped other superstars in his corrupt plots. He scammed Hollywood heavyweights such as Uma Thurman, Lauren Bacall and Al Pacino, to name a few.

Pacino allegedly failed to pay taxes for two years, a bill for $169,143 in 2008 and $19,140 in 2009, totaling $188,283. Anyone who would stiff this “Godfather” star out of $200,000 might be sleeping with the fishes too, but luckily for Al Pacino, the IRS doesn’t handle their business the same way the mob does. Pacino poured the blame on Starr, his business manager and close friend for years. The money hungry financier apparently used a lot of his fraudulent earnings to play sugar-daddy to his younger wife, ex-pole dancer Diane Passage, who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. “Managers can be very helpful, but many are not skilled in the area of tax planning and some are outright greedy when given control of celebrities finance,” said Ray Lucia, a certified financial planner.

A spokesperson for Pacino said the “Scarface” actor is working to resolve the situation as soon as possible with a new financial manager.

Another Hollywood cash cow who skipped his IRS bill is Jennifer Lopez’s husband, Marc Anthony. The Latin crooner owes $3.4 million for unpaid taxes on his Long Island mansion. Anthony has a history of running from the tax man. In 2007 he failed to pay taxes on his $15 million income over a five-year-period and ended up paying $2.5 million in back taxes. One might assume that such a power couple would have a better handle on their finances, but some tax attorneys aren’t surprised. “They live in a world where everyone gives them more and more leeway and slack — and they slowly develop an attitude of being above it all,” said Doug Burns, a federal prosecutor who has prosecuted dozens of tax fraud cases.

One pop star even sang a song about paying bills, the aptly titled “Bills Bills Bills,” but then forgot to fork up the cash herself. Former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland owes $98,634 in back taxes. The government filed a lien against her on Nov. 8, according to the Detroit News. The songstress hasn’t had much success since splitting from the Beyonce Knowles-led girl group. She also recently parted ways with her long-time manager and Beyonce’s father, Matthew Knowles. “Celebs who are attending to other details in their lives may brush taxes aside for later, but by then it’s too late,” said host Kelli Zink.

“Survivor” winner Richard Hatch has had his fair share of tax trouble. The reality star spent three years in jail for failing to pay taxes on the $1 million prize money he won on the hit show. Hatch is heading back to the slammer for not settling a tax bill that is now reportedly up to $2 million. Hatch is currently starring in Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” show. Although the episodes of the series have already been filmed, he will miss the live finale in May while he finishes his sentence behind bars. Along with his prison term, Hatch will remain under supervision for 26 months, and 25 percent of his wages will be garnished to pay back the IRS.

Joe Francis, founder of “Girls Gone Wild,” also spent some time behind bars for his tax tribulations and says the IRS targets celebrities every year around tax day. To avoid glitches in your taxes, Francis recommends Hollywood newcomers hire reputable business managers and get references from their other clients. “Good financial managers are helpful, ones like Bernie Madoff are awful. I was young, I was making a lot of money,” Francis said. “You trust people like lawyers and accountants. I didn’t even sign my own tax return. I didn’t even question it.”