Guide to Tax Professionals, Part 3: What Is an Accountant?

Taxpayers frequently seek out accountants to do their taxes over other tax preparers, often without knowing quite why. This Part 2 of the Guide to Tax Professionals explains what a CPA is and why having a CPA do taxes can be beneficial. (Part 1)(Part 2) In the United States, certified public accountants (CPAs) often prepare taxes for their clients, as well as preparing financial statements and other financial documents. CPAs must pass the Uniform CPA Examination as well as meeting various education and experience requirements, which vary depending on the state in which the CPA seeks licensure. Most require at least a bachelor’s degree and some kind of experience in accounting.

CPAs are considered professionals, meaning many laws and regulations that create fiduciary and confidentiality standards apply to them. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)[1] determines and lists the standards related to preparation of tax returns. IRS and state laws also apply. For example, except when required by law, the AICPA standards say that a CPA may not disclose an error or omission on a tax return to the IRS without the client’s permission.[2] In addition, CPAs can face liability for incorrect or negligent tax advice or return preparation and failing to file a return or filing it late.[3]

Because of the body of law governing CPA professional conduct, taxpayers who use CPAs to prepare their taxes have a greater degree of protection, in some aspects, than using a non-CPA preparer. The education and experience requirements for CPAs also help ensure that they have a base of knowledge for tax preparation. But not all CPAs regularly prepare tax returns – look for an experienced return preparer for your needs.

— By Julia Damron, Esq., Barnes Law

Julia Damron is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] AICPA: American Institute of CPAs,

[2] AICPA Statement on Standards for Tax Services, no. 6, paragraph 4, Nov. 2009, available at,%20Effective%20January%201,%202010.pdf.

[3] See, e.g., Soled, Jay A., “Tax Return Preparation Mistakes”, Journal of Accountancy, May 31, 2010, available at (citing Jerry Clark Equipment, Inc. v. Hibbits, 612 N.E.2d 858 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993); Bick v. Peat Marwick & Main, 799 P.2d 94 (Kan. Ct. App. 1990); Brackett v. H.R. Block & Co., 166 S.E.2d 369 (Ga. Ct. App. 1995)).