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As Tax Season Rolls Along, IRS Launches New Return Preparer Online Directory

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Feb 5th 2015
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Need help finding a credentialed tax professional to prepare your federal return this tax season? The IRS has just the tool for you.

The tax agency on Thursday unveiled a new online public directory of US tax return preparers. The tool offers a searchable, sortable listing that features the name, city, state, and ZIP code of credentialed tax attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents (EAs). It also lists professionals who have completed the requirements for the voluntary IRS Annual Filing Season Program.

All tax return preparers included in the directory have a valid 2015 Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). As of the start of the 2015 filing season, more than 666,000 tax return preparers have active PTINs. Tax return preparers with PTINs who are not credentialed and who have not completed the Annual Filing Season Program are not included in the directory, nor are volunteer preparers who offer free services.

IRS officials also noted that the directory can be a resource for taxpayers who need help understanding the tax implications of the Affordable Care Act. The agency noted that the vast majority of people will just have to check a box on their Form 1040 to indicate they had health coverage. Others may have healthcare marketplace coverage with tax credits, have exemptions or need them, or may have to make a payment because they could afford to buy health insurance but chose not to.

The US Treasury Department said last month that as many as 6 million Americans will have to pay a penalty of as much as 1 percent of income because they went without health insurance in part or all of 2014.

“This new directory will be a practical tool for the millions of Americans who rely on the services of a paid return preparer,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a written statement.

According to the IRS, 80 million Americans use paid tax preparers; however, only 40 percent of those preparers are attorneys, EAs, and CPAs who must meet mandated professional competency requirements. The remaining 60 percent are preparing returns with little or no federal oversight.

The IRS attempted to regulate paid preparers by launching the Registered Tax Return Preparers program in 2010, which required unlicensed preparers to obtain a PTIN, pass a competency test, pay an annual application fee, and complete 15 hours of continuing education annually.

But two courts ruled that the IRS did not have the legal authority to mandate continuing education and competency testing of paid preparers. So last June, the IRS launched its voluntary preparer education program.

Practitioners with a valid PTIN are eligible to participate in the Annual Filing Season Program if they successfully complete a six-hour federal tax-filing season refresher course that is administered by an IRS-approved continuing education provider. They must also complete continuing education courses on ethics or professional responsibility and federal tax law topics. Preparers who complete the continuing education requirements receive an IRS record of completion, which is only valid for one calendar year.

“[The program] encourages unregulated return preparers who don’t have to meet continuing professional education requirements to stay up-to-date on tax laws and changes,” Koskinen said last year. “It helps lessen the risk to taxpayers from preparers who have no education in federal tax law or filing requirements. And it allows preparers without professional credentials to stand out from the competition by giving them a recognizable record of completion that they can show to their clients.”

Related articles:

Appeals Court: IRS Lacks Authority to Regulate Preparers
IRS Moves Ahead with Voluntary Preparer Certification Plan

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