Blogs, discussion boards and comment boxes are filling up with reactions to the IRS requirements for testing, licensing and continuing education for Registered Tax Return Preparers. This writing by tax preparers paints a vivid picture of how the industry is responding to the sea change represented by the new designation and requirements.
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Most of the conversation on blogs and boards so far is a matter of accepting or despising the new requirements. Many commenters cite their long experience and continuing education in tax preparation with no licensing, testing or formal requirements. Others claim that the requirements will force many out of tax preparation and create a dearth of preparers in the next few years. Still others decry unneeded government oversight or say they have a tax prep practice that's too small to warrant the costs of testing and continuing education.
On both extremes of the question, emotions and conviction run deep. "Everybody knows it's nonsensical and simply fundraising. Will it improve the quality of tax prepartion? Not one iota," wrote one reader of TaxProToday's interview with David R. Williams, the director of the IRS Return Preparer Office ("IRS's Williams: It's Test-Taking Time").
"Based on the sample questions I've seen, the RTRP test will require memorizing great amounts of information, whereas we rely on software for many of the determinations that we make when doing our returns -- dependent qualifications, filing requirements, other items too numerous to mention," said a preparer on the blog from the software vendor TaxWorks. "It will be open-book, but looking up all those details will be time-consuming. A test-taker has 2.5 hours for 120 questions, which is barely over one minute per question."
Some blogs and boards are worth frequent visits for useful details, suggestions and addressing of rumors concerning the certification and testing. One preparer on the Facebook page of the IRS Return Preparer Office, commenting on how a preparer of long experience is leaving the profession due to an anxiety condition about the test, floats the idea that a long and unblemished record as a preparer could allow someone to be "grandfathered" into the RTRP designation, an idea echoed by a commenter on the TaxWorks blog.
A blog of the National Society of Accountants also addresses talk of two tests for RTRPs, a 1040 test and another test for businesses and entities. "This sure seems premature," blogger concludes. "Let's get the RTRP program up and running before we try to anticipate how to make it better."
The Facebook page of the Preparer Office offers one of the most diverse lodes of comments from RTRPs. One noted that the test seemed to have been made tougher recently, and others asked about CPE tracking, nearby test locations and any IRS plans to offer the test outside the U.S. (The Preparer Office seems to respond quickly to comments when a response is needed, and frequently updates a broad selection of tips and information regarding the requirements.) Many others who have taken and passed the test offered encouragement to those who have yet to take it. "I wish there was something for people who do not take tests well," said another commenter. Williams acknowledged in his interview for TaxProToday that a looming exam could, for tax preparers who in some cases haven't taken a test in years, create "a lot of test anxiety."
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE
A growing number of commenters have said that the requirements will better the profession. In reaction to the TaxProToday Williams interview, one reader likens tax preparers to manicurists, dog groomers and hairstylists, all of whom need licenses. "It mystifies me that so many people who prepare taxes for compensation are so opposed to a certification process. If you prepare taxes for a living, you should quite easily be able to pass an open-book exam! Don't you see that, in the end, this helps our profession?" the reader wrote.
Dr. Jim Hasselback on his blog "highly recommends anyone in the tax preparation field become an RTRP unless they are already a CPA, attorney or EA. An RTRP designation will enable you to have the ability to promote and supervise other tax return preparers, and have job security. If you are an RTRP, this designation allows you the ability to work anywhere and provides you the freedom to work for yourself."
One long-time preparer on the TaxWorks blog threw himself into studying for the designation right after the new requirements were announced. "Even if you do taxes every day, you will be surprised at how much you do not know," he wrote. "People with the correct attitude will become RTRPs and the public will be better off, and those of us who stay will be, too."