The Internal Revenue Service issues preparer tax identification numbers (PTINs) to anyone authorized to legally prepare — and defend — tax documents for individuals and companies. But there are credentials beyond the PTIN providing tax return preparers additional representation rights. For individuals interested in becoming a tax preparer, understanding the tax preparation requirements will help them achieve the career they're interested in pursuing. The certifications include:
An enrolled agent is a registered tax return preparer required to pass a suitability check, take an extensive test covering individual and business taxes as well as representation issues, and undergo 72 hours of additional education every three years. They have the most extensive licensing provided by the IRS, valid across the entire country.
CPAs are licensed by states or U.S. territories, and must pass the Uniform CPA Examination. Each state or territory establishes additional tax preparation requirements like education and review of certification requirements as well. Many CPAs will specialize in tax planning or preparation of returns.
Attorneys must be licensed by a state court or state bar after having earned a law degree and passed the bar exam. Not only are attorneys a registered tax return preparer, they also can prepare a legal defense for a client involved in a tax-related court case, even for taxes they did not prepare.
The IRS had a program providing Registered Tax Return Preparer certification to certain preparers. However, this program is no longer enforced due to a February 2014 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court finding that the IRS has "insufficient statutory support for the IRS' regulation of federal tax return preparers."
Once certified, tax return preparers often invest in cloud-based software programs like Intuit Tax Online or Intuit ProConnect Lacerte Tax that help provide their clients with better accuracy and quicker service. Both programs are excellent for tax preparers of any certification level.