IRS Proposes New Registration, Testing and Continuing Education Requirements for Tax Return Preparers Not Already Subject to Oversight
January 4, 2010
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service kicked off the 2010 tax filing season today by issuing the results of a landmark six-month study that proposes new registration, testing and continuing education of tax return preparers. With more than 80 percent of American households using a tax preparer or tax software to help them prepare and file their taxes, higher standards for the tax preparer community will significantly enhance protections and service for taxpayers, increase confidence in the tax system and result in greater compliance with tax laws over the long term.
To bring immediate help to taxpayers this filing season, the IRS also announced a sweeping new effort to reach tax return preparers with enforcement and education. As part of the outreach effort, the IRS is providing tips to taxpayers to ensure they are working with a reputable tax return preparer.
"As tax season begins, most Americans will turn to tax return preparers to help with one of their biggest financial transactions of the year. The decisions announced today represent a monumental shift in the way the IRS will oversee tax preparers," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. "Our proposals will help ensure taxpayers receive competent, ethical service from qualified professionals and strengthen the integrity of the nation's tax system. In addition, we are taking immediate action to step up oversight of tax preparers this filing season."
Based on the results of the Return Preparer Review released today, the IRS recommends a number of steps that it plans to implement for future filing seasons, including:
- Requiring all paid tax return preparers who must sign a federal tax return to register with the IRS and obtain a preparer tax identification number (PTIN). These preparers will be subject to a limited tax compliance check to ensure they have filed federal personal, employment and business tax returns and that the tax due on those returns has been paid.
- Requiring competency tests for all paid tax return preparers except attorneys, certified public accountants (CPAs) and enrolled agents who are active and in good standing with their respective licensing agencies.
- Requiring ongoing continuing professional education for all paid tax return preparers except attorneys, CPAs, enrolled agents and others who are already subject to continuing education requirements.
- Extending the ethical rules found in Treasury Department Circular 230—which currently only apply to attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents who practice before the IRS—to all paid preparers. This expansion would allow the IRS to suspend or otherwise discipline tax return preparers who engage in unethical or disreputable conduct.
Other measures the IRS anticipates taking are highlighted in the 55-page report released today.
Currently, anyone may prepare a federal tax return for anyone else and charge a fee. While some preparers are currently licensed by their states or are enrolled to practice before the IRS, many do not have to meet any government or professionally mandated competency requirements before preparing a federal tax return for a fee.
First Step: Letters to 10,000 Preparers
The initiatives announced today will take several years to fully implement and will not be in effect for the current 2010 tax season. In the meantime, the IRS is taking immediate action to step up oversight of preparers for the 2010 filing season.
Beginning this week, the IRS is sending letters to approximately 10,000 paid tax return preparers nationwide. These preparers are among those with large volumes of specific tax returns where the IRS typically sees frequent errors. The letters are intended to remind preparers to be vigilant in areas where the errors are frequently found, including Schedule C income and expenses, Schedule A deductions, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the First Time Homebuyer Credit.
Thousands of the preparers who receive these letters will also be visited by IRS Revenue Agents in the coming weeks to discuss their obligations and responsibilities to prepare accurate tax returns. This is part of a broader initiative by the IRS to step up its efforts to ensure paid tax return preparers are assisting clients appropriately. Separately, the IRS will be conducting other compliance and education visits with return preparers on a variety of issues.
In addition, the IRS will more widely use investigative tools during this filing season aimed at determining tax return preparer non-compliance. One of those tools will include visits to return preparers by IRS agents posing as a taxpayer.
During this effort, the IRS will continue to work closely with the Department of Justice to pursue civil or criminal action as appropriate.
Steps Taxpayers Can Take Now to Find a Preparer
In addition to the stepped-up oversight of preparers, Shulman also announced a new outreach effort to help make sure taxpayers choose a reputable preparer this filing season. That's particularly important because taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their tax returns—even if those returns are prepared by someone else.
"Taxpayers should protect themselves from unscrupulous preparers," Shulman said. "There are some simple steps people can take to choose a reputable tax preparer."
Most tax return preparers are professional, honest and provide excellent service to their clients. Shulman offered the following points for taxpayers to keep in mind when selecting a tax return preparer:
- Be wary of tax preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than others.
- Avoid tax preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund.
- Use a reputable tax professional who signs the tax return and provides a copy.
- Consider whether the individual or firm will be around months or years after the return has been filed to answer questions about the preparation of the tax return.
- Check the person's credentials. Only attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters, including audits, collection and appeals. Other return preparers may only represent taxpayers for audits of returns they actually prepared.
- Find out if the return preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and other resources and holds them to a code of ethics.
More information about choosing a tax return preparer and avoiding fraud can be found in IRS Fact Sheet 2010-03, How to Choose a Tax Preparer and Avoid Tax Fraud.
Resources for Taxpayers this Filing Season
This filing season, the IRS has many free resources to help taxpayers prepare and file their returns.
IRS.gov has a variety of features to help taxpayers. There's a special section to help taxpayers get information on a variety of Recovery tax benefits. The web site also has information for people who lost a job or experienced financial problems in 2009.
IRS.gov also has information to help people track their refund.
IRS.gov will once again host the IRS Free File program, which allows virtually everyone to file their taxes for free through the web site. Free File and the rest of the IRS e-file program will open later this month.
More filing season resources are available on IRS.gov: