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Q: What is the biggest challenge facing tax preparers today?
Stanek: It's very difficult to pick one biggest challenge facing the tax preparer today. The amount of information that has to be learned and retained is challenging. As in most careers, the professional wants to do the best job possible. With the penalties imposed by the IRS for errors, however, this makes knowledge even more important. Additionally, meeting the new IRS requirements for registration and certification has added another challenge for everyone whose careers depend on meeting these obligations. We're keeping an eye on many challenges for our members. One in particular is problem resolution. Budget cutbacks within the IRS have created communication obstacles for preparers. Getting resolutions on simple issues has become increasingly complicated.
Q: What is your association doing to help preparers?
Stanek: We provide in-depth education and information to members, as well as a research service to ensure our members are accurately preparing returns. Our education includes courses to help tax professionals pass IRS tests and our publications keep our members up to date on everything tax. We've raised the topic of correspondence audits, and shared suggestions for improving that process, to the attention of IRS executives. We frequently meet with members of Congress and their staff regarding the need to either refocus on getting social service goals accomplished through some other agency or on better funding the IRS so that it can adequately address and accomplish the additional assignments given by Congress. We also educate leaders on the realities of the problems that the tax administration system faces, so that legislation is realistic and not unnecessarily burdensome.
We're working with vendors to provide preparers with tools to "automatically respond" to many "automatic notices" from the IRS so as to minimize the time and effort required of them to effectively resolve issues with the IRS.
We work closely with the Return Preparer Office to gain clarity and simplify burdensome requirements that regulate the preparer community. Fortunately, RPO executives share our views on those goals and work well with us to alleviate as much red tape as possible under the circumstances. They're also concerned that good preparers not leave the industry, and they've been very helpful in assisting us with PTIN problems and continuing education issues. We communicate these issues with preparers and assist them with their individual challenges.
We work diligently with IRS executives to get clarity on their problem-focus and initiatives so that we can inform our members of their exposures (and) advise and educate them on how to avoid and stay clear of penalties and increased liability.
Q: Why should a preparer join an association?
Stanek: Associations are the watchdogs for the tax professional. Not only do we sort through complex information, but we share what tax professionals need to know when they need to know it. We also share their concerns and issues with the IRS. Associations' goals are to provide the tools and resources the preparer needs to be effective. NATP members know that we are here, looking out for them, and focused on their success.
Q: What should practitioners look for in an association now?
Stanek: Preparers should look for an association with a history in the industry that provides them with education, research and concise information prepared by a staff with experience and credentials. The sheer volume of data to sort through today is daunting. Many organizations, including the IRS itself, provide information, but a personal touch is needed to even know where to find what you're looking for.
Q: Where do you see tax preparer associations five years from now?
Stanek: We will likely see (and indeed already have) a proliferation of new entrants to the association community. New benefits will continually be added to meet the growing needs of a larger population of association members. We also see technology driving many changes and process improvements for our members in the future.
See our other Q&As with association leaders:
• The National Society of Accountants' Harlan Rose.
• The National Association of Registered Tax Return Preparers' Andy Carter.
• The National Association of Enrolled Agents' Frank Degen.