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IRS Now Requires Non-CPA to Register & Take Competency Test

Internal Revenue Service Electronic Tax Administration Director David Williams May 6 said that while all tax preparers will have to sign up with IRS under a new regulatory regime, they will not be given their registration papers with IRS until they have passed a test to determine their competency.

“People who come in [early] will have three years before they have to take the competency exam,” he said. “Once you pass the test, we propose to call you an IRS registered tax preparer. We will give folks a certificate that says that.”

Speaking at the Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement’s spring meeting, Williams outlined plans for IRS to assign a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) to all paid preparers who sign a return or who prepare all or substantially all of a tax return.

The objective is to have a web-based interface system up and running by Sept. 1 , he said, allowing people to sign up, pay a fee, and obtain their PTIN. Those who already have a PTIN will be allowed to keep it, but they will have to pay a fee to register and update IRS’s information about them.

IRS is working now on setting the user fee, after selecting Accenture as the contractor to establish the registration system.

Preparers will have to meet suitability requirements, Williams said. IRS is looking at the Circular 230 rules, adding that, “[what] you will see is a redefinition of practice before the IRS to include tax return preparation.”

IRS is also looking at how it does tax compliance checks because the service will need to determine that people who are preparing other people’s returns have been compliant in filing their own. IRS will be building a system to check that, he said.

IRS is expecting to sign up between 900,000 and 1.2 million tax preparers. A PTIN will become a condition of practice, Williams said. “If we identify a tax compliance problem or criminal problem we need to be able to resolve this and work through the due diligence process to determine if that person is really fit to practice before IRS.” None of that will be happening in the last four months of this year, he said.

Competency Exams

Anyone who is not an attorney, certified public accountant, or enrolled agent will be required to pass a competency exam. There will be two versions of the exam, which Williams said is expected to be available in May 2011. Preparers will be required to complete 15 hours of continuing education annually. Each year, two of those hours will need to be ethics training, and four hours of new tax law, he said.

There will be two exams at the start—one for the basic Form 1040 and the earned income tax credit, which will be limited to “Schedule C EZ.” The second exam will include small business returns and the full range of Schedule C returns, including individual and small business returns exams. Preparers need not take both exams, he said.

It will be several years before a database is up and running that will allow taxpayers to check to see what tests their preparer has passed, he said.

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