When You Need a Tax Attorney in Georgia
Sometimes a CPA isn't enough
on February 15, 2022
Not long after he started practicing law, Douglasville tax attorney David Wilson got a call from a certified public accountant whose dying father owed the IRS $70,000. After nearly 18 months, Wilson persuaded the IRS to agree to a compromise and reduce the debt to $25,000.
“When you’re terminally ill and you can settle a debt with the IRS and save almost $45,000 to help pay for your medical bills,” says Wilson, “it’s just as valuable as $1 million. It took a while, but that’s one of the highlights of my career.”
While not all tax issues are this dire, they can—and do—complicate life for many business owners. So when do you need a tax attorney? When is a CPA not enough?
“Accounting and tax [law] are not synonymous,” Wilson says. “One is going to help you prepare your P&Ls and such, and the other one is going to help you understand how the U.S. Tax Code applies to your business.”
Sole proprietorship or partnership? S corporation or C? A good tax attorney, well-versed in business matters, can give you the tax implications of how to structure your business from the outset.
Attorneys and CPAs often work together to cover all the bases and help you avoid, or deal with, an audit. “Even though some of their practices overlap, they’re going to find ways to complement each other for the benefit of their client,” Wilson says. “CPAs do a really good job—if they have the requisite tax experience—preparing returns and [advising on] compliance issues. But at the point where the IRS is sending letters, there are garnishments, tax compliance issues and a threat of litigation, the tax attorney is more equipped to handle those. Attorneys go to law school for very adversarial types of relationships, unfortunately. We’re really trained and wired to advocate and fight and go to court.”
Anson Asbury, a tax-controversy attorney in Decatur, spends much of his time defending clients when the IRS comes calling. If your business expenses don’t add up or the IRS concludes that you’ve claimed too many deductions, he can dig deeper into your receipts, bills and contracts. “It’s a matter of helping the client get the documents together that really are behind the tax return that the CPA files,” Asbury says. “In a substantiation exam, we walk through all that stuff with the IRS.”
He adds: “At the end of the day, the goal is to get the best result for the client and get them in and out of the case as quickly as possible. These are the cases that usually end up heading toward litigation but get settled short of an actual trial.”
When one of Asbury’s clients was audited for a three-year period due to discrepancies in tax records involving payroll, materials and subcontractors, Asbury filed an appeal. “We did not get a 100% concession of everything,” he says. “But we got to a number that the client, who had no interest in really litigating, could live with. And he didn’t have to pay the tax difference all at once. We put him in an installment agreement.”
No matter how much you think you know about taxes, Asbury warns, you should not represent yourself against the IRS. He compares IRS investigators to Lt. Columbo, the TV detective whose signature line, “just one more thing,” often hoodwinked overconfident suspects.
“You give an answer that you think is the right answer, and then, just like Columbo, they come and get you. But when you’ve been on the other side of the Columbo storyline long enough, you know what those questions are,” Asbury says. “The hardest cases for us are [when clients] call us after the IRS visited and say, ‘I talked to them for an hour and this is what I told them.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh boy.’”