Exclusive: IRS commissioner announces interim relief from tax preparer testing requirement

Speaking at this week's National Tax Conference in Washington, D.C., IRS Commissioner Mark Schulman addressed concerns about the new tax preparer identification guidelines that are about to take effect. Managing Editor Gail Perry reports.

At various sessions during the conference, attendees expressed concern about the new prepare guidelines that suggest the potential need for testing and certification of accounting firm staff members, including administrative staff, who are involved in the preparation of a client's tax return but who have no signature authority over the return.
In his keynote address on Tuesday, Schulman said, "I am sympathetic to the argument that the rules should be flexible for people who have met a higher professional standard. Therefore, it is highly likely that as we implement the new rules and procedures there will be some relief for testing and continuing education requirements for people who do not sign a return and work in a professional firm under the supervision of an accountant, enrolled agent, or lawyer."
The new Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) guidelines requiring every tax preparer to obtain a PTIN go into effect January 1, 2011, and the IRS Web site already is taking applications and collecting related fees for the PTINs. Even accountants with existing PTINs are required to renew their PTIN this year. The IRS has announced that preparers who are not currently licensed CPAs, EAs, and attorneys will be required to take an IRS test to receive the certification of "IRS Registered Tax Return Preparer" and take 15 hours per year of continuing tax-related education.
The IRS plans to implement this testing, and the 15-hour per year continuing education program for tax return preparers will roll out over the next few years. Schulman described a staged transition to the new tax preparer requirement and, as a result, announced Tuesday that the continuing education requirement would be waived for the first year.
"This will give us time to work through the many issues regarding CE, including working with third parties who already certify CE courses to attempt to leverage their infrastructure," Schulman said.
Schulman also announced the creation of a new Return Preparer Office within the IRS. David R. Williams, who has been the IRS’s executive lead for implementation of the proposed IRS regulations, will head that office.
"This new office will have broad responsibility for the return preparer initiative. It will manage all of our activities related to continuing education and testing of all professionals under IRS jurisdiction. It will also manage the registration system and process, as well as coordinate resource planning for IRS efforts across the organization related to return preparers," Schulman said.
Later in the day, Williams presented a session about the preparer identification rules, and he specifically addressed the issue of administrative and non-certified accountants working on the preparation of tax returns. When determining which people in an accounting firm need to receive preparer identification numbers and maintain their certification with testing and continuing education, Williams stated, "You, the people in this business, will have to exercise your judgment as to who is preparing the return. This is a judgment call. We are not looking to become the PTIN police."

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