Cool for school: Credentials that appeal to tax preparers

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Some things remain constant even in a tax year like 2018, such as the need to learn to skills to expand a practice. Tax practitioners report that a number of fresh certifications, designations and credentials are appealing to them as clients’ needs change.

“By this time next year, I expect to have completed the requirements and will have earned the NTPI Fellowship, a credential awarded by the National Tax Practice Institute, and you must be an EA, CPA or attorney,” said Morris Armstrong, an Enrolled Agent and registered investment advisor at Armstrong Financial Strategies, in Cheshire, Connecticut. “My business plans are headed towards representation and helping people resolve issues with the IRS.”

“I’m working hard on becoming an NTPI Fellow,” echoed EA Jake Alexander, owner at Alexander Financial in Largo, Florida. “Often clients wait too long before coming to a professional for complex tax needs. I want to be able to serve all of their needs, including representation.”

Chris Hardy, an EA at Georgia-based Paramount Tax and Accounting, said that being a U.S. Tax Court Practitioner allows a tax pro “to be prepared for worst-case scenarios for clients.”

Ditto John Dundon, an EA and president of Taxpayer Advocacy Services in Englewood, Colorado, “because few people can out-nerd me when it comes to the Internal Revenue Code,” he said. “Also IRS local area council attorneys in most cities appreciate working with me as I’m efficient and don’t take BS from reprobates.”

Burbank, California, CPA Brian Stoner has thought about becoming a Certified Tax Coach. “Two friends of mine, one a CPA and one an EA, have done this and are trying to talk me into it,” he said. “They and other CTCs actually wrote a book about various tax-planning strategies. I’m doing some more due diligence on this.”

‘Self-satisfaction’ and complexity

Armstrong would also like to ultimately add the USTCP credential. “For me, that credential is for self-satisfaction – but would allow me the opportunity to take some complex cases before the actual court,” he said – though he noted that the pass rate over the past 18 years has ranged from a low of 5.5 percent to a high of just 18.25 percent four years ago.

An increasing number of designations seem to draw clients to preparers in today’s market. A recent practitioners’ survey from the National Society of Accountants showed that almost half (47 percent) of respondents were EAs and almost a quarter (24 percent) were CPAs. Other designations held by respondents included Registered/Licensed Public Accountant or Accounting Practitioner; Accredited Business Advisor/Accountant; Accredited Tax Advisor; Accredited Tax Preparer; RTRP; CFP; and Registered Investment Advisor.

Wealth management

A survey from 1st Global, a wealth management firm that works with CPAs, found that 66 percent of affluent and emerging affluent consumers view tax knowledge as the most important factor when choosing a financial advisor. Almost half of the respondents associated the CPA designation with financial advice. Tax-optimized investing, estate tax planning and tax burden reduction ranked as the top three specialties surveyed investors said they seek when choosing a financial advisor.

Among other findings from 1st Global research, most respondents discussed investments and long-term financial aspirations with their CPA or accountant.

But a designation may be key: A CFP Board nationwide survey among upper-income households found that most (85 percent) of those surveyed considered successful completion of a certification examination “very important” or “extremely important.”

Also important: changing client demographics. “Social Security analyst,” said EA Laurie Ziegler at Sass Accounting in Saukville, Wisconsin. “As my clientele ages, they’re asking me more and more questions about maximizing their Social Security benefits while minimizing their tax consequences.”

Accredited Retirement Advisor/Elder Care Specialist and Certified Senior Advisor were also among additional credentials held by respondents in the NSA survey.

New York EA Phyllis Jo Kubey also has the Certified Financial Planner credential (“of which I am very proud”) and has considered getting the USTCP, the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and the Certified College Financial Consultant. “I love learning,” she added, “and if I could add more hours to the day, I’d be in school for life.”

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Certifications and licensing Tax preparers Tax preparation Tax practice Tax court Professional development