How to Find the Best Tax Relief Company
A Transparent Guide for Consumers Who Want Help With Tax Issues
If you search online for the best tax relief companies because you have state or IRS tax debts or another tax problem, you will instantly see articles from popular sites such as The Balance, Investopedia, LendEDU, Money.com, SFGate, and CHRON. These reviews typically focus on the largest national tax debt or tax resolution companies (Optima Tax Relief, Anthem Tax, Tax Hardship Center, Community Tax, and the Tax Defense Network are some of the biggest). Are many of the national tax firms mentioned on these review sites always the best fit for a taxpayer with a major tax problem? Not necessarily.
To help you understand why the same tax relief companies (aka tax debt relief companies) pop up in all of these articles, this post explores how tax relief or tax debt relief reviews work. Then, it looks at best practices for choosing a tax relief company using credible advice from the FTC.
How Tax Relief Company Reviews Work
Typically, websites that post up tax relief reviews through advertisements receive compensation when readers click links to the reviewed companies. These sites may also receive additional compensation when readers fill out forms, apply for tax debt relief, or pay for services. As a result, tax relief review sites tend to promote the tax relief companies that pay the most per potential client sent to their company.
If you look at the top results for the search query "what are the best tax relief companies," you'll see the same nationwide companies that are listed. Only a tiny handful of other tax relief companies make these lists.
These companies appear on all the lists, so they must offer the best tax debt services or be the most trustworthy tax relief companies, right? Again, not necessarily. These big companies generally are just the easiest to find because they spend a lot of money on marketing and employ a scalable model to maximize profits from each client. Many employ highly trained salespeople to handle the intake and spend lots of money on brand recognition. Many people sign onto their services without even knowing anything about the professional handling their case for them.
Are Tax Relief Company Reviews Legitimate?
All of these websites are straightforward about their review process, but you have to hunt a bit to track down the details. In one section of the website, often on the same page as the tax relief company review, you'll find a statement that explains the company's review process. It may say that the reviews are non-biased and that the writing team researched consumer reviews, company websites, and Better Business Bureau listings to generate the content.
Then, in another section, you'll find an admission that the review site receives compensation for clicks or leads. If you want to check for yourself, just look on these review sites for the “advertiser disclosure” link to read the details. Receiving compensation for clicks does not require these websites to post positive reviews. These sites are paid for clicks and leads, not for the quality of their reviews.
On the one hand, you can rest assured that these websites aren't lying about the companies they're reviewing. But on the other hand, these websites aren't always doing a lot of research. They aren't looking at hundreds of tax resolution companies and whittling down to the top 10. Instead, they're probably looking at the biggest 10 to 12 tax relief companies to generate a post that focuses on four to seven companies. Often times, the ranking of the partner is tied to how much that tax relief company is willing to pay per click or lead.
Again, if you hunt around, you'll also find this fact spelled out on the websites. They typically post a statement that says along the lines of "we don't have the time to review all products or services." For instance, in its ratings and methodology section, one main review site states, "Only our partners are included in our Editorial Ratings." When explaining how many companies they review, The Balance puts it bluntly — "we're human, and we can't cover everything."
How Do the "Best" Tax Relief Companies Work?
The tax companies that make the lists on these review sites are large companies with big advertising budgets. They employ a large staff to justify a nationwide advertising campaign, while many try to attempt a one size fits all model for people with tax problems.
When you call most of these companies, a non-licensed sales rep answers the phone. This is not a secret. After hiring Alan Thicke (a sitcom TV dad from the 1980s) as its spokesman, the large tax relief company received a deluge of calls that helped the company grow significantly. The company claims to set itself apart from the competition by not using "people who can follow a call script." Instead, the company says it uses "people who are prepared and who care about their customers."
To put it another way, the company still uses un-licensed salespeople. It just claims to give them extra training. But the bottom line is that when you call these companies, you likely don't talk to a licensed tax pro. You speak to a salesperson.
In most cases, you will end up signing a tax relief services contract and committing to a service plan long before you talk to a tax professional. In some cases, you may never talk with a tax pro.
What Is Really the Best Tax Relief Company?
In light of this, who are the best tax relief companies to resolve IRS or state tax problems or provide tax relief services? The fact is, you can't rank the best company or most reputable tax relief companies. All companies have particular specialties. And as a consumer, you don't need the best overall tax relief company. You need the best professional on your side that has experience resolving your specific tax problem with a state tax agency or the IRS.
Most of the big companies can practice in every state, but their tax relief services focus on IRS tax resolution or tax debt relief. They often lack state-specific experience, and because every state has slightly different rules and collection processes, this can impair the results for clients. If you are considering one of the larger companies, check to see if they list their tax pros on their website. Will you know who is working on your case? How many years of experience do they have? Do they have experience with your unique problem?
The truth is that the best tax firm for resolving tax issues is probably not a big company that's sinking millions into advertising. The best option we believe is tax attorneys, Certified Public Accounts (CPAs), or Enrolled Agents (EA) who are doing business in your state or close to you and have experience providing tax relief services.
How Much Do Tax Relief Companies Charge?
Tax relief companies provide a valuable service to taxpayers who are struggling to pay their taxes. However, these companies also charge for their services. The fees can vary depending on the company, but normally they won't take a taxpayer who owes less than $10,000 dollars and their average fees range from 4,000 to $5,000 for income tax problems and even more for issues with payroll taxes. Some companies also charge an upfront fee, which can be as much as $500. For taxpayers who are already struggling to pay their taxes, these fees can be a significant burden. As a result, it is important to research different tax relief companies before selecting one. Taxpayers should also be aware that they may be able to negotiate a lower fee with any tax debt relief company. You can read more about pricing by viewing our tax relief pricing guide.
As explained above, the answer depends on the company. Big-name tax relief companies tend to focus on advertising over quality. They are notorious for providing subpar services and overcharging their clients. Many small firms also refer to themselves as tax relief companies, but they don't operate in the same way. Instead, they have modest marketing budgets, and they provide high-quality personalized services at fair prices to their clients.
The Benefits of Working With a Local Tax Relief Company
Local tax relief specialists spend every day solving income tax, sales tax, corporate tax and payroll tax problems for their clients. They have extensive experience dealing with state tax agencies and the IRS. When you work with these companies, you work directly with a seasoned tax pro who has years of training and education. You don't work with a sales rep.
Most local tax companies have lower fees compared to what the tax relief companies charge. When you hire a company, your fee covers their services plus a portion of their overhead. Big companies that employ large sales teams and spend a lot of money on advertising roll those costs into their fees. Local tax relief companies typically have small support teams and negligible advertising budgets, which helps keep their prices reasonable.
Additionally, tax professionals are bound by Circular 230. This document outlines the regulations governing practice before the IRS. It requires that tax professionals have good character, good reputation, the right qualifications, and competency. Non-licensed sales reps are not bound by this document.
Because licensed tax pros must uphold the ethical standards outlined in Circular 230, their advice is more truthful and accurate than most advice you're likely to receive from a sales rep. But unfortunately, finding a local tax relief specialist can be difficult.
How Do You Find the Best Tax Relief Company Near You?
Local tax relief companies aren't professional marketers like the people who run the big tax relief companies. They spend their time helping clients and staying on top of the tax code. They don't have time to research marketing algorithm changes.
When you do a search for tax debt relief companies, the search results page will typically show a shortlist of tax companies in your area. It will also include paid advertisements from the big tax relief companies and links to review sites. The results will be similar if you search for CPAs or tax lawyers.
You can pick up the phone and start calling these local companies if you have a tax debt problem or another tax issue. If they have websites, you can look at their services, and you can also check out their online reviews if they have any. Unfortunately, a lot of local listings are sparse. Again, these tax pros are focused on their core services, not on marketing. That's where TaxCure comes into play.
How TaxCure Can Help You Find Help for Tax Problems
TaxCure features a directory of local tax pros, including CPAs, tax attorneys, and Enrolled Agents that are more trustworthy in our opinion than many of these national firms. These are the only professionals who can represent you in front of the IRS and state tax agencies. They provide tax preparation services, tax audit representation, and other tax services geared to resolving IRS and state tax debts for individuals or businesses. To note, although tax preparation services are often required for compliance and resolution reasons, some of these firms do not provide it as a stand-alone service.
They have all passed multiple tests to earn their credentials. CPAs take the CPA exam, Enrolled Agents pass a three-part test on tax codes, and tax lawyers complete law school and pass the bar exam in their states. Then, all of these tax pros must complete continuing education credits to keep their licenses active. Sales reps don't have any of this training.
When you search for a tax pro on TaxCure, you can filter your results based on your state tax agency and your unique situation. This ensures that you find a tax pro who has experience with your specific tax problem. In contrast, when you call a big tax relief company, the sales rep will assure you that they can help, even though they don't know who will ultimately be assigned to your case or if they have that particular type of experience.
TaxCure makes it easy for taxpayers to go directly where they can get help. When you search for tax relief services on TaxCure, you get to skip the middle man (aka the sales rep) and connect with a tax pro for your unique situation.
What Tax Relief Services Do These Firms Provide?
Tax relief firms offer a variety of tax resolution services to help taxpayers get their tax debt resolved or fix tax problems.
Setting Up a Payment Plan with the IRS or State
One common service is negotiating installment agreements with the IRS or state. This involves setting up a payment plan that allows the taxpayer to pay off their tax debt or back taxes over time. A tax relief company can help you set up a payment plan for your tax debt if it is the best possible option. They will work with you to create a budget and develop a plan that is affordable and sustainable. The company will also negotiate with the IRS or state on your behalf. Ultimately, a reputable tax relief company can provide the guidance and support you need to get your tax debt under control.
Getting Tax Liens Withdrawn, Removed, Subordinated, or Discharged
Tax liens can be withdrawn, released, discharged, or subordinated. Withdrawing a tax lien means that the government has decided to no longer pursue the collection of unpaid taxes. A release of a tax lien means that the government has been paid in full and the lien is no longer attached to your property. A discharge of a tax lien means that the government has forgiven the tax debt and the lien is no longer attached to your property. Subordinating a tax lien means that the government agrees to allow another creditor to have a higher priority claim on your property than the government's tax lien.
Getting Tax Levies Removed or Lifted
A tax levy is a legal claim on your property in order to satisfy a tax debt. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can place a levy on your wages (wage garnishment), bank account, or other assets. Levies are different from liens, which are placed on your property when you owe taxes. A lien gives the IRS a legal right to your property, but it does not allow them to seize it. With a levy such as an IRS wage garnishment, the IRS seizes your property and sells it in order to satisfy the tax debt. There are three different types of levies: property, wage (wage garnishment), and bank account levies.
Tax Preparation Services
Tax resolution firms generally offer tax preparation services as part of their tax relief services because before most tax resolutions take place, the taxpayer must have filed all outstanding tax returns. The best tax relief companies can help you gather all of the necessary documentation and file your old or current tax returns.
Tax Audit Representation
Tax audit representation is the act of representing a taxpayer during an IRS or state tax audit. Being audited by the IRS is a daunting experience for many taxpayers. An audit can be time-consuming and stressful, and it may result in a significant tax bill or tax debt. The best tax relief companies ease the burden of an audit by representing the taxpayer during the audit process. The company will work with the IRS to gather the necessary documentation and ensure that the taxpayer is in compliance with all tax regulations. In addition, the company can negotiate on the taxpayer's behalf to try to reduce the amount of taxes owed. As a result, working with a tax relief company can help to make the audit process less daunting and more manageable.
Tax Penalty Abatement
The IRS imposes a variety of penalties on taxpayers who fail to comply with the tax laws. These penalties can be very costly and can add up quickly. If you are facing a tax penalty, you may be able to reduce or eliminate the penalty by working with a tax company. Tax penalty abatement is the forgiveness or reduction of a tax penalty that has been assessed by the IRS. The most common reason for requesting penalty abatement is to abate first-time penalties, the IRS (and some states) may also grant an abatement for reasonable cause. A reputable tax debt relief firm can help you negotiate with the IRS to reduce or eliminate the penalties you are facing. By working with a trusted tax firm, you can get the IRS off your back and get your finances back on track.
Innocent Spouse Relief
Innocent spouse relief is a process by which taxpayers can be relieved of joint and several liability for tax, interest, and penalties related to a joint tax return. This relief may be available if the taxpayer did not know, and had no reason to know, that an item on the shared return was incorrect. A tax relief company can help innocent spouses by negotiating with the IRS on their behalf and working to reduce or eliminate the taxes owed. In some cases, the company may also be able to help the taxpayer file for bankruptcy, which can provide additional relief from joint liability. If you are facing tax debt and believe that you may qualify for innocent spouse relief, a tax relief company can help you explore your options and get the best possible outcome.
Passport Revocation and Non-Renewal Help
The Internal Revenue Service has been using passport revocation or denial as a means of collecting back taxes over the last six or seven years. This policy was put in place in 2015, and since then, the IRS has revoked or denied passports for more than 5,000 taxpayers. While this may seem like a draconian measure, it is important to remember that the IRS is not taking away passports for minor infractions. In order to have their passport revoked or denied, taxpayers must have a tax debt of more than $50,000. This is a significant amount of money, and the IRS believes that it is necessary to take this step in order to ensure that taxpayers are held accountable for their tax debt. A qualified tax pro can help you resolve your tax debt and avoid passport issues related to tax liabilities.
Tax-Related Identity Theft Relief
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen personal information to file a tax return in your name. This can happen in a number of ways, including phishing scams, data breaches, and malware infections. If you become a victim of tax-related identity theft, it can take months or even years to resolve the issue. In the meantime, you may have to deal with IRS audits, late fees, and interest charges. You may also find it difficult to obtain a loan or open a new line of credit. If you do become a victim of this type of identity theft, be sure to contact the IRS or state tax agency immediately so that they can take steps to resolve the issue. When it comes to tax-related identity theft, the best thing you can do is get a tax pro on your side. They can help you figure out what happened and how to fix it. They can also help you prevent it from happening again in the future.
Tax Settlement Services
There are a few different types of tax settlement services that the IRS offers. This includes partial payment installment agreements, offers in compromise, and other tax resolutions. Thes programs can help you reduce your tax debt.
International Tax Matters like FATCA and FBAR Compliance
FBAR and FATCA are tax laws that require US citizens and residents to disclose certain foreign financial assets. Some tax firms can help with FBAR and FATCA compliance by ensuring that taxpayers comply with the relevant reporting requirements. They can also help taxpayers resolve any issues that may arise in relation to their foreign financial assets.
How to Find the Best Tax Relief Companies
Before going any further, let's address the fact that the tax relief industry has a negative reputation -- you need to really try to avoid the worst tax relief firms. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has harsh words about this industry. The consumer protection agency calls tax relief companies "fraudsters," or tax relief scams. It claims that these companies advertise aggressively and make tax debt relief promises they can't keep.
In its review of tax relief companies and/or the tax relief industry, the FTC writes, "The truth is that most taxpayers don't qualify for the programs these fraudsters hawk, their companies don't settle the tax liability, and in many cases don't even send the necessary paperwork to the IRS requesting participation in the programs that were mentioned. Adding insult to injury, some of these companies don't provide refunds and leave people even further great liabilities."
So, what does the FTC recommend if you have tax problems or tax debt issues? First, the agency explains that you can attempt to make arrangements with the IRS or state tax agencies on your own. If you want to take a DIY approach to tax resolution, there are extensive guides on TaxCure that show you exactly how to apply for payment plans, offers in compromise, penalty abatement, innocent spouse relief, and more. These guides also have links to the IRS forms you need to apply for these programs.
In many cases, however, tax issues can be too complicated and time-consuming to handle on your own. If you don't want to negotiate with the IRS on your own, the FTC recommends the following:
- Work with a tax professional who can represent you in front of the IRS or State — this includes CPAs, Enrolled Agents, and tax attorneys.
- Choose a local professional who can provide you with a face-to-face meeting to talk about your options and their fees.
- Be leery about claims that a company can eliminate interest or promises that you will qualify for a program before anyone's looked closely at your tax situation.
- Review the company's refund policy and cancellation fees if you make an upfront payment.
- Report questionable tax resolution services practices to the IRS using Form 14157 (Complaint: Tax Return Preparer) or file a complaint with the FTC.
Note that this quote was on the FTC website when this webpage was originally written. The FTC site also advised people to seek help from a local pro at that time. As of October 2023, however, the FTC's webpage has been updated. The site no longer suggests looking for a local pro. Instead, it advises handling the issue on your own, calling your state comptroller, seeking help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, or going to a low income taxpayer clinic.
TaxCure makes it easy to follow this advice and get tax services and/or tax debt services that really help by connecting you directly to local tax pros. More importantly, you can even filter tax professionals by whether they offer a free consultation.
Get Help With Tax Resolution Today
Now that you understand how to find the best tax resolution or the best tax relief companies, it's time to reach out to a local tax professional. Use TaxCure to find a tax pro experienced with your unique tax situation. Or, to learn more about how TaxCure works, call us at 1 (866) 517-7550 to talk directly with one of our founders.