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IRS Releases Specifications for Registered Tax Return Preparer Test – Doesn’t it just give you the chills?
By Stacie Kitts, CPA
Here it is, what all un-registered (non CPA’s, attorneys, or enrolled agent) tax preparers have been waiting for. The specs for the competency test that will award those who pass the title of “Registered Tax Return Preparer.”
Wowwee doesn’t it just give you the chills….
No – well maybe that’s because CPA’s and attorneys can sign tax returns even if they don’t have a single clue what they are doing. They get to do this without passing a test (other than the initial licensing exam which he/she could have taken a hundred years ago – so not even relevant today) or taking a single hour of tax related continuing professional education. You know, training that would keep you up to speed on the actual tax laws that apply to tax return preparation.
So what do you think the odds are that many of these licensed “professionals” would have a difficult time passing the new competency test?
Ya, scary jacked up regulation that leaves out a large number of people who are trusted to prepare your tax return.
Fixing the mistakes of these so called professionals is a large part of my practice. I guess I should be grateful instead of loosing my mind over the absurdity of it all.
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today released the specifications for the competency test individuals must pass to become a Registered Tax Return Preparer.
The test is part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to enhance oversight of the tax preparation industry. Preparers who pass this test, a background check and tax compliance check as well as complete 15 hours of continuing education annually will have a new designation: Registered Tax Return Preparer.
The specifications identify the major topics that will be covered by the test, which will be available starting this fall. Although individuals who already have a provisional preparer tax identification number (PTIN) from the IRS do not have to pass the exam until Dec. 31, 2013, they may take the exam at any time once it is available.
The test will have approximately 120 questions in a combination of multiple choice and true or false format. Questions will be weighted and individuals will receive a pass or fail score, with diagnostic feedback provided to those who fail.
Test vendor Prometric Inc. worked with the IRS and the tax preparer community to develop the test. The time limit for the test is expected to be between two and three hours. The test must be taken at one of the roughly 260 Prometric facilities nationwide.
To assist in test preparation, the following is a list of recommended study materials. This list is not all-encompassing, but a highlight of what the test candidates will need to know.
- Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax
- Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return
- Form 1040 Instructions
- Circular 230, Regulations Governing Practice before the Internal Revenue Service (rev. 8/2/11)
- Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Business
- Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education
- Publication 1345, Handbook for Authorized IRS e-file Providers
- Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax – Individuals
- Form 6251 Instructions
- Form 8879, IRS e-File Signature Authorization
Some reference materials will be available to individuals when they are taking the test. Prometric will provide individuals with Publication 17, Form 1040 and Form 1040 instructions as reference materials.
The fee for the test has not been finalized but is expected to be between $100 and $125, which is separate from the PTIN user fee. Currently there is no limit on the number of times preparers can take the test, but they must pay the fee each time. Individuals must pass the test only once.
Only certain individuals who prepare the Form 1040 series are required to take the test. Attorneys, Certified Public Accountants and Enrolled Agents (EAs) are exempt from testing and continuing education because of their more stringent professional testing and education requirements. Also exempt are supervised employees of attorneys, CPAs, attorneys or EAs who prepare but do not sign and are not required to sign the Form 1040 series returns they prepare and individuals who prepare federal returns other than the Form 1040 series.
Approximately 730,000 return preparers have registered and received PTINs in 2011. Approximately 62 percent do not have professional credentials. The IRS does not yet know how many preparers will fall into other exempt categories, but those individuals will be required to identify themselves when they renew an existing PTIN or obtain a new PTIN beginning in October 2011.
The IRS will notify those preparers who have a testing requirement and provide more details. Once the test is available, preparers who have on-line accounts can use their accounts to schedule a test time and select a Prometric site.
At the time the current version of Publication 17 went to press, there were certain tax benefits that had not been finalized and several tax benefits were subsequently extended. See Legislative Changes Affecting the 2010 Publication 17 on IRS.gov for the details needed for study purposes.
Stacie Clifford Kitts CPA is a tax partner at Katherman Kitts & Co. LLP
Military personnel have some unique duties, expenses and transitions. Some special tax benefits may apply when moving to a new base, traveling to a duty station, returning from active duty and more. These tips may put military members a bit “at ease” when it comes to their taxes.
- Moving Expenses If you are a member of the Armed Forces on active duty and you move because of a permanent change of station, you can deduct the reasonable unreimbursed expenses of moving you and members of your household.
- Combat Pay If you serve in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer for any part of a month, all your military pay received for military service that month is not taxable. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.
- Extension of Deadlines The time for taking care of certain tax matters can be postponed. The deadline for filing tax returns, paying taxes, filing claims for refund, and taking other actions with the IRS is automatically extended for qualifying members of the military.
- Uniform Cost and Upkeep If military regulations prohibit you from wearing certain uniforms when off duty, you can deduct the cost and upkeep of those uniforms, but you must reduce your expenses by any allowance or reimbursement you receive.
- Joint Returns Generally, joint returns must be signed by both spouses. However, when one spouse may not be available due to military duty, a power of attorney may be used to file a joint return.
- Travel to Reserve Duty If you are a member of the US Armed Forces Reserves, you can deduct unreimbursed travel expenses for traveling more than 100 miles away from home to perform your reserve duties.
- ROTC Students Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.
- Transitioning Back to Civilian Life You may be able to deduct some costs you incur while looking for a new job. Expenses may include travel, resume preparation fees, and outplacement agency fees. Moving expenses may be deductible if your move is closely related to the start of work at a new job location, and you meet certain tests.
- Tax Help Most military installations offer free tax filing and preparation assistance during the filing season.
Tax Information IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, summarizes many important military-related tax topics. Publication 3 can be downloaded from www.irs.gov or may be ordered by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
- Tax Information for Members of the U.S. Armed Forces
- IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide (PDF)
By Stacie Clifford Kitts, CPA
The IRS has started their seasonal “Tax Tip” campaign. I do like these tips. They cover many of the general questions that taxpayers ask. In the interest of having a little fun, let’s pick apart Tax Tip 2011-01
- Start gathering your records – I agree. Waiting to the last minute can cost you deductions. Lost receipts or forgotten documents are the bane of tax preparation. Give yourself time to get it together before the filing deadline gets here.
- Be on the lookout for w-2 and 1099’s – well duh IRS, this kind of falls into item number 1 don’t ya think? If you are owed a 1099 or W2, these are delivered or mailed to you by January 31, 2011. So if it’s March and you don’t have your forms, better start making some calls because something is wrong.
- Use free file – This option is cool, but a bit deceiving. Free file is a great product to prepare your federal income return if your income is less than $58,001. Free file is sponsored by brand name – for profit- tax software companies. So keep in mind, you still pay for the use of the software when you prepare your state tax return (only the federal part is prepared for free).
- IRS e-file – Personally I like efiling. It is convenient, fast, accurate, and paperless. Besides, here’s a heads up, E-file is mandatory for some taxpayers. It’s a new age, time to get on the ball and accept modern technological advances.
- Consider other filing options – Yes there are other options – you could prepare your return yourself (not recommended). And, if you qualify, there are ways to get your return filed that don’t cost money. Consider checking out your local VITA program. The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs offer free tax help for taxpayers who qualify.
- Consider direct deposit – I still get taxpayers who want to have their refund checks mailed to them. I can’t really get my head around this one. Generally, there isn’t a good reason to have a check mailed versus having your refund direct deposited.
- Visit the IRS website again and again – okay, lots of helpful information here. No reason not to. I say, do it.
- Remember to checkout IRS publication 17. Well, yes if you want to learn all about income tax by all means here is a publication that will help. Helpful stuff includes: a) What’s new for 2010, b) Reminder, c) When you should file a return, d) When to paper file vs. efile, c) Yada yada yada
- Review! Review! Review! – Well ya check for mistakes. But people really, if you’re not a tax expert, you really aren’t going to know if you blew it. Might I suggest you have a tax professional review your return before you file.
- Don’t panic! – Unless you want too of course – or waited until the last minute. When all else fails, the IRS says you can give them a call at 800-829-1040.
- Tax tip: It’s time to get started; here’s a few things you can do (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Some Tax Payers Will Need to File Their 1040 Later Rather Than Sooner This Coming Filing Season (staciesmoretaxtips.wordpress.com)
- Important 2011 tax filing deadlines: Jan. 14, mid-February, April 18, Oct. 17 (dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com)
- IRS Delays Start of Filing Season for Some Taxpayers (businessweek.com)