As a professional tax preparer, I am often asked what is the difference between us.  Enrolled Agent, tax attorney, an accountant/CPA, a bookkeeper, and a tax preparer. So here you go…

For a beginning, a professional Tax Preparer is an individual who prepares tax returns. A professional tax preparer can be an Enrolled Agent, a Tax Attorney, an Accountant/CPA, a Bookkeeper, or anyone really who professionally prepares tax returns for clients. Most return preparers are professional, honest and provide excellent service to their clients.

An Enrolled Agent (EA) is a federally-authorized tax practitioner who has technical expertise in the field of taxation and who is empowered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to represent taxpayers before all administrative levels of the Internal Revenue Service for audits, collections, and appeals. “Enrolled” means to be licensed to practice by the federal government, and “Agent” means authorized to appear in the place of the taxpayer at the IRS. 
Only Enrolled Agents, Attorneys, and CPAs may represent taxpayers before the IRS.  The Enrolled Agent profession dates back to 1884 when, after questionable claims had been presented for Civil War losses, Congress acted to regulate persons who represented citizens in their dealings with the U.S. Treasury Department.

A Tax Attorney is not the same as an accountant. The accountant can work with the financial issues and has a general knowledge of tax laws; however a tax attorney is a specialist in all aspects of tax law. Although they often work closely together, they are two complete different services. Typically large and even small businesses will meet with a tax attorney once every quarter or once a year to ensure that they are making the best possible business choices with regards to investments and tax issues. Since the taxation laws change constantly, this is an important step.

A Bookkeeper is responsible for keeping accurate, up-to-date business records for proper cash flow management, balance sheet preparation, and developing expansion and investment plans. A bookkeeper also assists in filing tax returns with updated tax records. Accurate bookkeeping is a legal requirement and should be kept well within the standards that are set by local and federal tax agencies. A bookkeeper accurately records all of the financial transactions. It is the responsibility of bookkeeper to note all monetary transactions that are received and paid out. The records also include outstanding balances that the company owes to other parties and others who owe to the business. Business bookkeeping takes a lot of time and cannot be done in a hurry. At small businesses, bookkeepers also double as company accountants. Perhaps bookkeepers have the biggest responsibilities in the company as business planning, payroll management, and tax return preparations are dependent on accurate bookkeeping. Bookkeepers often do not have the qualifications or certifications of accountants, but the responsibility is not any less. Bookkeepers that have a great deal of experience can market themselves as accountants or managers. For that, they also need to supplement their profession with certificate courses, seminar attendance, and on-job training. All types of businesses require bookkeepers who are experienced in their specific business functions.

Accountants keep track of a company’s money. The company’s managers and people outside the company read their reports. Managers look at the accountants’ reports to see how well their companies are doing. There are four kinds of accountants:

Public accountants work for public accounting companies. They do accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting work. Some have their own businesses. They do many different kinds of accounting for people outside the company.

Management accountants keep track of the money spent and made by the companies for which they work.

Accountants generally work a standard 40-hour week, but some work 50 hours a week or more. Tax accountants often work long hours during the tax season, from January to April. Most accountants have a college degree in accounting. Public accountants have to take a special test as well, resulting in a certification. Public accountants also must have a special license from the State in which they live. Accountants are generally good mathematicians, and have good analytical skills.

So there you have it.

How do you choose the right one to prepare your taxes? There is no one factor to use in determining this. I suggest you read the IRS Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer. Or my previous post on this.