NTA Weblog: Minimal Competency Requirements for Return Preparers Are Essential Taxpayer Protections


Congress Ought to Enact Laws to Defend American Taxpayers

Since 2002, TAS has been a powerful proponent of laws offering the IRS authority to ascertain minimal competency requirements for return preparers. Each taxpayers and the tax system rely closely on the power of return preparers to arrange correct tax returns. As a result of the tax code is so advanced, the vast majority of taxpayers pay preparers to finish their returns for them. Sadly, many taxpayers don’t have any straightforward technique to decide whether or not the preparer they’re hiring can do the job adequately.

No Federal Minimal Competency Requirements At the moment Exist

Anybody can maintain herself or himself out as a return preparer with nearly no information or ability by merely sitting with a taxpayer and dealing via the tax return preparation software program’s question-and-answer format. Taxpayers, with restricted tax information themselves, are ill-equipped to evaluate a preparer’s experience in taxes and tax return preparation. The absence of minimal requirements leaves taxpayers susceptible to preparers’ inadvertent errors that would trigger them to overpay their tax – or to underpay their tax and face IRS enforcement motion. It additionally leaves some taxpayers open to unscrupulous preparers, lots of whom can be weeded out if the return preparation business had been professionalized.

Credentialed preparers, together with attorneys, licensed public accountants (CPAs), and enrolled brokers (EAs), are typically required to move competency checks and take persevering with training programs (together with an ethics part). Volunteers who put together tax returns as a part of the Volunteer Revenue Tax Help (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Aged (TCE) packages additionally should move competency checks. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of paid preparers are non-credentialed and are usually not required to move competency checks or take any programs in tax return preparation.

In 2009, the IRS Commissioner concluded that the IRS had the authority to control tax return preparation as “follow” earlier than the IRS. The IRS initiated intensive hearings and discussions with stakeholder teams to obtain feedback and develop a system inside which all events believed they may function. The IRS, along with the Treasury Division, carried out this system in 2011. Nevertheless, it was terminated in 2011 after a U.S. district courtroom held, and the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit subsequently affirmed, in Loving v. Inside Income Service, that the IRS doesn’t have the authority to impose preparer requirements with out statutory authorization.

For the reason that 2011 program was terminated, Home and Senate members have launched laws to offer the IRS with the statutory authority to ascertain and implement minimal requirements. Most just lately, Congressman Panetta and Congressman Rice sponsored bipartisan authorizing laws, the Taxpayer Safety and Preparer Proficiency Act of 2021.

The IRS at the moment administers a voluntary “Annual Submitting Season Program” for non-credentialed return preparers to ascertain minimal competency. Program contributors should meet particular necessities, together with taking 18 hours of constant training annually, which incorporates an examined tax refresher course. In the event that they meet the necessities, the IRS will present them with a “Document of Completion” that they presumably can use of their advertising and marketing to draw potential shoppers. Nevertheless, participation on this voluntary program could be very low.

Low-Revenue Taxpayers Are at Important Danger of Hurt Brought on by Incompetent or Unscrupulous Return Preparers

Low-income taxpayers are notably prone to the hurt created by incompetent or unscrupulous return preparers. Because of the complexity of refundable credit, many low-income people attain out to paid return preparers to arrange and file their tax returns. A TAS 2014 telephone survey of taxpayers eligible for help from Low Revenue Taxpayer Clinics discovered that “the low-income inhabitants is susceptible and extra probably than the inhabitants at giant to be taken benefit of by unskilled or unscrupulous tax return preparers.”

The dearth of requirements for unenrolled paid preparers stands in stark distinction to the coaching and oversight required for a lot of volunteer preparers. Volunteers with the VITA or TCE packages should full coaching programs earlier than being licensed, in addition to annual coaching to make sure they’re present on new tax legal guidelines.

Taxpayers Pay the Final Value for Inaccurately Ready Tax Returns

With none federal oversight or minimal competency requirements in place, taxpayers should do their very own due diligence when selecting a tax skilled. And taxpayers pay the final word worth if their preparer prepares an inaccurate tax return. Many consider that their preparer is accountable for a mistake, however they could be in for a impolite awakening. It’s the taxpayer who has to pay the IRS any extra quantities due, together with penalties and curiosity. Taxpayers can’t merely level a finger at their tax return preparer to keep away from legal responsibility for an inaccurately ready return.

Quite a few research have persistently discovered that non-credentialed tax return preparers put together inaccurate returns. Such research have been carried out by the Authorities Accountability Workplace, the Treasury Inspector Normal for Tax Administration, the New York State Division of Taxation and Finance, and the IRS. For instance, the IRS examine, issued in 2014, estimated compliance with Earned Revenue Tax Credit score necessities in the course of the 2006-2008 interval. Among the many findings of the examine, non-credentialed return preparers not affiliated with a nationwide tax return preparation agency had been accountable for “the best frequency and proportion of EITC overclaims.”

The IRS’s Taxpayer Expertise Technique gives a further foundation for establishing preparer requirements. Pursuant to the technique, the IRS envisions giving preparers entry to taxpayer info via on-line accounts. Whereas there are appreciable advantages to this plan, there are additionally vital safety dangers, together with id theft and different fraud and the IRS should mitigate any threat. Requiring minimal competency requirements for preparers is one important step to making sure these return preparers may be entrusted with taxpayer info.


Congress should present the IRS with the statutory authority to ascertain minimal competency requirements for federal tax return preparers. Most just lately, I included a legislative advice within the Nationwide Taxpayer Advocate 2021 Purple E book supporting competency requirements. Minimal competency requirements are an necessary and mandatory taxpayer safety as a result of they might improve the accuracy of tax returns and defend taxpayers from unqualified return preparers. In 2004, the Senate handed laws to do that by unanimous consent, and extra just lately, each the Biden and Trump Administrations have beneficial that Congress authorize the IRS impose minimal requirements for tax return preparers. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig has additionally been a powerful proponent of elevated oversight of paid tax return preparers in addition to elevated penalties on ghost preparers (i.e., somebody who doesn’t signal tax returns they put together). Enacting acceptable laws is simply widespread sense to making sure accuracy in tax return filings and defending U.S. taxpayers.


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