When individuals and businesses need legal assistance, the natural inclination is to search for a local attorney. This makes sense 95% of the time because there is a strong likelihood that the attorney will need to appear multiple times in the local courtroom, and it is cost prohibitive for all but the very wealthiest to pay for an attorney’s time and travel expenses (think minimum business class airfare and a high-end hotel) for God knows how many court appearances.
But what if you’re seeking assistance to resolve a serious tax liability? Does it still make sense to find a local professional? It may come as a surprise, but the answer is that it is oftentimes a bad decision to find someone local—unless that someone local just happens to be among the very best tax relief specialists in the country.
There are several reasons for this. First, understand that tax collection cases almost never wind up in a courtroom, and 100% of the negotiations and communications necessary to resolve a tax liability can be performed via writing or telephone. Second, it is standard procedure in today’s tax world to have non-local tax relief representation, as evidenced by the multitude of national tax resolution service providers. Third, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face meetings simply aren’t happening unless absolutely necessary, and there is never a time when a face-to-face meeting between a tax relief pro and a client or tax collector is necessary. Thus, the proximity of your tax relief pro isn’t even a factor. This frees you to expand your search to the entire United States, and focus on what matters most: finding a tax relief pro who is experienced, effective, responsive to your needs, and able to get you the best results.
An attorney with a license in good standing in any state has unlimited authorization to represent taxpayers before the IRS, regardless of where the taxpayer resides. The same is true with state taxing authorities with just one exception: Oregon requires attorneys to be licensed in Oregon to represent taxpayers before the Oregon Department of Revenue.
This allows you to shop around for the best representation you can find nationwide. Search “tax relief” online and you will find dozens of firms to choose from. Each firm’s website should list their services and their attorneys’ (or other professionals’) credentials, BBB ratings, and reviews. Your choices are not limited by how far you are willing to drive.
You have a lot of choices. So, what should you be looking for?
AN EXCELLENT REPUTATION
Like any other service provider, tax relief professionals fall somewhere on a spectrum between awful and phenomenal. An awful pro can actually increase your stress level and leave you worse off than you would have been going it alone, while a great one can set your mind at ease and get you a far better result than you could have possibly gotten on your own. Do yourself a favor and do some basic research about the professional’s or the tax relief firm’s reputation. An A+ BBB rating along with overwhelmingly positive online reviews is a must.
SKILL AND EXPERIENCE
Your attorney should have extensive experience in dealing with the IRS or state tax collection divisions. Keep in mind that tax law is a broad field, and that many tax attorneys have very little experience handling tax collection cases. Ask how many tax collection cases they typically handle in a year, and keep in mind that someone with 30 years of experience taking 10 tax collection cases has far less relevant experience than someone with 10 years of experience who handles 70 collection cases per year. For that matter, why not just find a true specialist who does nothing other than resolve tax liabilities?
LISTENS TO YOU AND RESPONDS TO YOU IN A TIMELY FASHION
Your attorney should actively listen to your story, hear your concerns and objectives, and keep in close contact. By the end of your first phone consultation with the attorney that you choose, you should be able to feel like your attorney understands your situation and has a game plan to accomplish your goals. Throughout your case, one on one consultation is easily carried out over the phone or by email. An attorney and their office should be responsive and available to provide immediate help should you need it. An attorney who takes your call whenever possible or get backs to you in a day or two is very valuable for your case.
TAKES THE TIME TO RESEARCH YOUR CASE HISTORY
Your attorney should be able to research your case (e.g. obtain and analyze your tax transcripts) and secure all of the relevant information that will be needed to carry out a successful resolution. Your representative uses the same tools to do this whether they reside in your hometown or 2000 miles away. The difference is how your professional utilizes those tools and analyzes your information to bring you the best results.
ACTIVELY KEEPS YOUR CASE MOVING FORWARD AND MEETS ALL DEADLINES
Your representative must pay attention to details, meet your deadlines, and keep your case progressing. Missing deadlines can result in disastrous consequences for you, such as a levied bank account or garnished wages, so your pro absolutely cannot be asleep at the wheel. The best attorneys keep your case moving forward as briskly as possible, communicate effectively with you and your revenue officer, stay on top of their calendars, and do everything within their power to ensure that all of your deadlines are met—even if it means staying late and missing their kid’s baseball game.
ADVOCATES ON YOUR BEHALF
Find an attorney who will fight for you. If your local attorney is not committed to negotiating a solution that fits your needs, you might as well not have representation. Many of my clients who have had bad experiences with past local representatives would have fared better on their own than with the half-hearted attempt at resolution they received from their prior representative.
Individuals and businesses with tax liabilities are not often rolling in money, so finding a great value is a top priority. Though I’ve focused primarily on attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents (other types of licensed tax professionals) may also represent taxpayers who are in collections with the IRS or a state.
Generally, the value of an attorney’s time is higher than that of a CPA, and the value of a CPA’s time is higher than that of an enrolled agent.
Negotiation skills, persuasive skills, advocacy skills, and the ability to build and present a compelling case are what matters most when it comes to resolving a tax debt, and these are skills one would expect an attorney—not an accountant–to possess. Although CPAs and enrolled agents ought to have strong number-crunching skills, by the time a tax liability winds up in collections, the accounting part is almost always ancient history. Consequently, there is likely more value in hiring a tax relief attorney than an accountant, even if it costs a bit more. If you can find an experienced, talented, and reputable tax relief attorney who charges a reasonable fee, you are probably getting a very good value.
It is almost always wise to be proactive when going about resolving a serious tax debt. The longer one waits, the more penalties and interest accrue, and the more likely it is to face severe consequences like enforced collections. I suggest doing a little research and then contacting two or three different tax relief professionals or firms. Fortress Tax Relief is a great place to start. We have caring and knowledgeable tax professionals on staff who would be happy to evaluate your situation and detail a solution for you at no charge.
All you have to do is pick up the phone
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