Is a CPA Better Than a Tax Preparer?

Terry Selb
3 min readJul 26, 2023

When managing finances and ensuring tax compliance, seeking professional assistance is crucial. Individuals and businesses face two common choices: Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and tax preparers. Both professionals offer valuable services, but understanding their differences and capabilities is essential in making an informed decision. This article will explore the roles and qualifications of CPAs and tax preparers. We will highlight their strengths and weaknesses to determine which option suits your financial needs better.

Understanding the Roles

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): A Certified Public Accountant is a licensed professional who has completed the necessary education, passed the CPA exam, and fulfilled specific experience requirements in accounting and finance. CPAs are well-versed in various financial matters and comprehensively understand tax laws, auditing, financial planning, and consulting.

Tax Preparers: Tax preparers are professionals who specialize in preparing tax returns. They may have a different level of education and certification requirements than CPAs, but they typically undergo training to stay updated with tax regulations. Tax preparers focus solely on accurately filling out tax forms and ensuring compliance with tax laws.

Qualifications and Expertise

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): The road to becoming a CPA is rigorous, requiring a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field and passing the CPA exam. Additionally, most states mandate a certain number of work experience hours under the supervision of a licensed CPA. This ensures that CPAs have a comprehensive understanding of financial principles and can offer various services, including financial analysis, tax planning, and business consulting.

Tax Preparers: Tax preparers have more relaxed educational requirements than CPAs. While some may have accounting degrees or relevant certifications, others might have received training through courses or workshops. Their expertise lies primarily in tax preparation and ensuring accurate filing, making them suitable for individuals or small businesses with straightforward tax situations.

Services Offered

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): CPAs can offer a broad spectrum of financial services beyond tax preparation. They can assist with long-term financial planning, investment strategies, retirement planning, estate planning, and more. For businesses, CPAs can provide auditing services, financial statement analysis, and recommendations for improving financial efficiency and profitability.

Tax Preparers: Tax preparers, as their title suggests, mainly focus on preparing tax returns. They are well-versed in tax laws and deductions, making them valuable resources during tax season. However, they may need more expertise or authority to offer extensive financial advice beyond tax-related matters.

Complexity of Financial Situations

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): CPAs are equipped to handle complex financial situations. Whether dealing with intricate tax scenarios, navigating business regulations, or providing investment advice, CPAs possess the knowledge and experience to handle multifaceted financial challenges.

Tax Preparers: Tax preparers are best suited for individuals or small businesses with relatively straightforward financial situations. If your taxes involve multiple income sources, investments, rental properties, or significant deductions, a CPA’s expertise would be more beneficial in maximizing deductions and minimizing tax liabilities.

Representation Before the IRS

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): CPAs can represent their clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in case of an audit or other tax-related issues. This representation can be invaluable during stressful situations, as CPAs can communicate and negotiate with the IRS on behalf of their clients.

Tax Preparers: While knowledgeable about tax regulations, tax preparers have different authority to represent clients before the IRS. Clients may need additional representation or assistance from a CPA in an audit or complex tax dispute.

Professional Ethics and Oversight

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): CPAs are bound by a strict code of professional ethics established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). They are subject to oversight by state boards of accountancy, ensuring accountability and ethical conduct in their practice.

Tax Preparers: While there are professional organizations for tax preparers, they may be subjected to a different level of ethical oversight than CPAs. Researching the qualifications and reputation of tax preparers is essential to ensure their credibility and reliability.

In conclusion, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and tax preparers are essential in managing finances and tax compliance. The choice between the two depends on the complexity of your financial situation and the range of services you require. A tax preparer may be sufficient for individuals or small businesses with straightforward tax needs. However, a CPA’s expertise is likely a better fit if you seek comprehensive financial advice, have complex financial situations, or require representation before the IRS. Ultimately, it is essential to consider your specific financial requirements and preferences when deciding between a CPA and a tax preparer.



Terry Selb

Terry Selb is a senior partner in one of the fastest growing tax resolution companies in America.