Monday, January 16, 2012


Joe Kristan replied to my post “Measuring the Success of Tax Preparer Regulation” in a post at the ROTH AND COMPANY TAX UPDATE BLOG titled “Preparer Regulation: Justified by its 'Mere Existence'?

A regulatory regime needs to meet a standard beyond its mere existence. To show that preparer regulation is worthwhile, the IRS should be able to demonstrate a significantly reduced error rate, improved tax compliance, and/or reduced fraud. If it can't demonstrate such benefits, it can't justify the $63 per preparer cost, the busy-work burden of the new IRS preparer-regulation bureaucracy, or the increased cost of preparation that the program will impose on the taxpaying public.”

While I would hope that the regulation regime, regardless of who manages it, does accomplish the goals Joe mentions, I still say it is worth it just to provide a credential to the previously unenrolled.  And as for justifying the $63.00 registration – whether or not there is any additional regulation or requirements, the IRS still does need a centralized registry of preparers. 

However, as, I believe, applying for a PTIN was free in the past, I don’t see the need for such a large fee just to get a number. 

I asked Joe what he thought of my suggestion for an independent industry-based organization to “manage” the RTRP credential, a AIRTRP similar to the AICPA.

I'm perfectly happy with an independent accreditation agency, but not on the condition of it being the gatekeeper for a government-enforced credential for tax preparation. I actually think a private self-enforcing accreditation function would be a more credible credential.”

If done right the RTRP credential under an AIRTRP would be no more “government-enforced” than the CPA designation is under the AICPA.

Jason Dinesen, whose original post Six Tax Predictions for 2012started the discussion in the first place, initially submitted a comment to my post -  

1. We all now have PTINs. That alone should make it easier (theoretically) to see who the unethical preparers are. They can be weeded out by barring their PTIN.

2. I don't think that passing the RTRP exam proves ‘competency’. It's an open-book exam and Publication 17 is the open-book reference guide, for crying out loud! It is a barrier to entry that will scare off many casual preparers, which is good. But I think mandatory PTINs alone would scare the casual preparer off. 

I agree that all the IRS really needs is a central registry of preparers – which is accomplished by the requirement to register and receive a PTIN.  The IRS really has no need to manage the “Registered Tax Return Preparer” credential via testing and checking CPE requirements.

It is true that an open book test does not prove competence beyond doubt.  Yet we do indeed prepare 1040s with an “open book”.  The test should not be about memorizing current law, since it changes so often.  If there is to be a test It should be about 1040 concepts.  I personally think the annual CPE requirements in federal taxation are a better way to insure currency and competence. 

Jason promised to post further on the subject at his DINESEN TAX TIMES blog, and has done so in “Thoughts on Preparer Regulation”.   Here Jason seems to be siding with Joe Kristan. 

He makes some good points, but he does not comment on my suggestion for an independent industry-managed RTRP designation.   

Trish McIntire of OUR TAXING TIMES also submitted a comment to my post -

An outside agency to regulate tax preparers?  Okay. How do you create one? I can’t think of any organizations that regulate their industry and are independent of the government. ABA, AMA, labor unions may do a little regulation for self-protection but for the most part they’re advocates for their members. Congress could set one up. But do you really want Congress messing with this? Take a look at all the tax preparer regulation bills that they created and could never get into law. They’re not a good choice. We could look at the states but that could mean dealing with different regulations and testing for each state. Sorry, but the IRS is the logical choice for a national program.

How much of the ire with the IRS doing the regulating is coming from tax pros who hate the IRS, don’t like the Commissioner, or disagree with aspects of the new rules? Or they point to the new crackdown on EITC due diligence or those ‘mistake’ letters which went out a few months ago. The big bad IRS is in charge. 

The PTIN regulations just went into effect a year ago. Most of the other regulations are still getting phased in. There have been set backs and changes but that’s to be expected with a new program. In fact, I’d rather they be flexible and make changes to get a better program.

I’m going to give the IRS the chance to do what they set out to do. Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t gripe and blog about issues with the program and when they don’t keep their promises. (When are the letters to taxpayers who filed self-prepared returns but they really look like a tax preparer did them coming out?) But I know that the IRS has a lot of eyes looking over their shoulders at the licensing program (TIGTA, TAS, NATP, NAEA, AICPA, ASA, tax bloggers…) so I’m going to let them finish implementing the program. 

The government does not manage the CPA or bar exams, nor does it issue the CPA or JD credential.  I do believe that the AICPA and the ABA are truly independent of government.  The only credential that the IRS manages is EA (Enrolled Agent).  The IRS can prevent a CPA or JD from preparing taxes, or practicing before the IRS, if “bad behavior” is proven, but I do not believe they can take away a CPA or JD designation.  The AIRTRP would be no different from the AICPA, the ABA, or, for that matter, the AIA for architects or the AMA for physicians.   

Providing a recognized set of initials for “unenrolled” tax return preparers is not a new idea.  There have been many attempts in the past at a privately-maintained tax preparer credential.

Many years ago the National Society of Tax Professionals tried to establish a tax preparer designation - I think it was Certified Tax Preparer or something like that - through a subsidiary accreditation organization. 

The National Society of Accountants set up a credential program through The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation® (ACAT) which offered the designations Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA) and Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP). 

And there is currently an American Institute of Certified Tax Coaches which issues a Certified Tax Coach (CTC) designation.

Other organizations and businesses have offered the Professional Tax Preparer (PTP), Certified Tax Specialist (CTS), and Chartered Tax Professional (CTP) designations.

All these credentialing attempts failed because they were initiated and maintained by one organization or profit-making business and did not have industry-wide representation or support.  To be successful the AIRTRP must be independent and sponsored by all representatives (i.e. non-profit membership organizations) of the tax-preparation community.

So, my fellow tax professionals, what do you think of an independent industry-related regulatory organization to replace the IRS in managing the RTRP credential?  Let’s keep the discussion going.


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