Thursday, June 4, 2009

Got a pulse? Be a tax professional. That must change, IRS chief declares

In Missouri, like many places, it's tougher to become a tattoo artist than a tax preparer.

California and Oregon require tax preparers to meet some state-specified education requirements before taking on clients, but most everywhere else, anyone with a pulse can hang out a shingle.

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman pledged Thursday to try to change that and come up with ways that our individual tax preparers can help improve the accuracy and quality of the returns we file each year.

Shulman wants us to help too. He's planning a still-to-be scheduled series of meetings across the U.S. in the near future to hear changes we want, along with recommendations from lawyers, accountants, our tax preparers and others in the industry, and get the proposals in hand by the end of the year.

About 80 percent or so of U.S. taxpayers seek professional help during the filing season, Shulman estimated. Tax returns are among the biggest financial transactions Americans engage in every year, he said.

Drowsy oversight hurts both IRS and taxpayers, observers say. No one even knows how many complaints about inept or abusive tax work are filed each year because IRS doesn't count them, one group of Treasury Department investigators found. And inconsistent IRS procedures were allowing even preparers with records of tax abuse to remain in business, a second group reported.

So now, "we want to put everything on the table," Shulman said Thursday. "At this early and critical stage of the process, we need hear from the broades possible range of stakeholders.

One significant stakeholder is applauding the effort.

"For many years, H&R Block has strong supported efforts to upgrade training, professionalism and ethics among all tax preparers," said Richard Breeden, chairman of the world's largest tax service chain.

"We believe that all tax assistance providers should be trained and licensed as necessary to insure that tax returns are prepared accurately every time," Breeden said.

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