Trying to navigate your way out of a tax jam is like wandering through the forest without a compass. If you're deep into the bush of back tax debt, it may be crucial to enlist the help of a guide to get you out. In the tax world, guides are known as Tax Debt Relief Specialists.

Tax Debt Relief Specialists can be tax attorneys, debt advisors, CPAs or Enrolled Agents (EAs)-IRS-certified tax professionals. Any professional offering tax debt help services should have specific tax education and experience. Specialized experience is particularly important. The right expert can guide you by assessing your situation, devising an appropriate solution, and representing you before the IRS.

Finding help

The following discussion points will help you select the right professional.

  • Free Consultation. Meeting with several professionals who offer free consultations gives you the opportunity to compare your options without laying out any cash.
  • Experience. The more experience the professional has with back tax cases, the better. Many tax professionals will promote themselves as the most experienced in the field. Since this is a subjective claim, ask him to be specific, and then rely on your own judgment in evaluating his past successes.
  • Fees. A stated flat fee (as opposed to hourly billing) eliminates surprises, as long as you know what is and what isn't included in the fee. Ask about all services that might be necessary in your case, and whether these are included. Some professionals may offer payment plans, and some may base the fee on performance alone.
  • Expectations. Tax debt solution advertising may paint an unrealistically rosy picture. Ask your candidate directly what type of resolution you can expect. Statistically speaking, most back tax cases are settled with payment plans, rather than debt write-offs.

A reputable and experienced tax debt relief specialist can lead you out of the forest. You may have to walk through a bit of poison ivy, but it's better than wrestling with an ornery grizzly bear named Uncle Sam.

Published on December 8, 2006