If there’s a shortage of tax preparers for the 2014 season, it won’t be for lack of education providers.

Of the 62 exhibitors at the recent IRS Tax Forum in New York, 24 are direct providers of continuing education for tax preparers, and at least 12 are distribution partners of the education providers for their customers or members.

In fact, there are scores of additional providers of education for tax professionals who were not exhibiting, according to Chuck McCabe, chief executive of Richmond, Va.-based Peoples Income Tax and The Income Tax School. “These providers include tax and accounting national, state and local professional associations, colleges, private companies and the IRS itself, which is competing with private sector and nonprofit education providers. The last time I counted, there were a total of 560 IRS Approved CE providers on the IRS Web site.”

Yet the proliferation of educational providers does not ensure that there will be enough qualified preparers in the future. The IRS requires all unenrolled preparers, those who are not CPAs, Enrolled Agents or attorneys, to complete 15 hours of continuing education annually from an IRS approved CE provider. In addition, these preparers must pass an IRS Preparer Competency Exam by Dec. 31, 2013 to earn the IRS credential of Registered Tax Return Preparer.

“The new requirements will cause an exodus of tax preparers, who will stop practicing rather than take the test and complete annual education,” said McCabe. “The result will be a shortage of qualified tax preparers and, consequently, a bidding war.”

“A high percentage of the industry’s most experienced tax preparers are elderly,” McCabe explained. “Rather than take the exam, many will retire. In addition, tens of thousands of preparers with inadequate tax knowledge who have been enabled to prepare taxes by using tax software would fail the test without additional education. Many of these preparers will quit.”

McCabe expects that the shortage of preparers may also drive up compensation for preparers, resulting in higher prices for tax preparation services.

According to a June IRS News Release, some 340,000 tax return preparers are required to take the RTRP exam, but only about 4,800 people had passed as of that date. “This constitutes only 1.4 percent of the preparers who must pass the test,” said McCabe. “We are concerned about the shortage of tax preparers expected for the 2014 season,” said McCabe. In fact, he has been asked to speak on the topic of recruiting preparers at an upcoming meeting of Enrolled Agents.

McCabe started The Income Tax School in 1989 to meet the need for qualified tax preparers to support his firm’s rapid early growth. He began licensing his tax school system to tax businesses nationwide, with a turnkey system for its licensees to establish their own tax schools to recruit and train tax preparers.

“We enabled independent tax business owners to adopt the best practices used by the national tax firms,” McCabe said. “Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax Service outsourced their tax schools to us during their first two years of existence before taking their tax school in-house.”

McCabe foresees a reduction in the number of tax preparation offices because of the predicted shortage of preparers. “In our case, we’re moving away from the fast refund, so we don’t need as many offices to serve taxpayers who are upper end,” he said. “We’re serving a higher percentage of taxpayers with more complex returns. Those individuals, and small business owners, are willing to drive just a little bit further to get the expertise they want.”

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