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Poor accountants. They're so often the butt of jokes from comedians, who paint them as either hopelessly boring and numbers-obsessed or, worse, shifty. But the joke's on the investors who either don't pick a good tax accountant or opt to handle (mishandle?) their tax returns filled with stock market gains and losses.

In addition to playing behind the scenes but vitally important roles in major corporations, tax accountants also are vital for millions of Americans during tax season. Tax issues have a strange and tangled dialect, and tax accountants understand it better than anyone. (Big note: Not all accountants specialize in taxes.) Furthermore, they usually are abreast of the latest changes in tax laws and standards that can help you minimize you tax bill come April.

For investors, choosing an accountant is crucial decision. While the lucky ones have a great sister-in-law that can crunch the numbers in exchange for a good bottle of wine, others have to pay up to get tax help. In this case, it pays to do some research and background checking before hiring an accountant. Not all accountants are the same. It may be safer to go with a certified public accountants, or CPAs. CPAs are accountants who have passed a national exam and have met certain educational requirements.

Lastly, while accountants are synonymous with April 15, many take on other roles on the wide financial-services stage. Many may get certification to become financial planners, which help investors draw up lifelong investment, spending and savings plans.

Three Accountants Walk Into a Bar

Seriously, folks. If you want to mitigate your tax bite (and who doesn't?), picking an accountant is serious business. From's

archives, these stories have you covered with the basics about accountants.

How to Choose an Accountant

Line Blurs Between Accountants and Planners