By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
WASHINGTON -- The Internal Revenue Service announced a voluntary program Thursday to certify paid tax preparers who complete annual training and pass a test.
A majority of taxpayers pay someone to help them file their tax returns, but most preparers are unregulated. The goal of the program is to help consumers know which tax preparers have at least a minimum level of competency, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
Attorneys, certified public accountants and others who represent clients before the IRS are exempt because they already undergo training.
"It helps lessen the risk to taxpayers from preparers who have no education in federal tax law or filing requirements," Koskinen said. "And it allows preparers without professional credentials to stand out from the competition by giving them a recognizable record of completion that they can show to their clients."
Starting in 2015, tax preparers would have to complete 18 hours of training each year and pass a test showing that they understood the material to be certified for the upcoming filing season.
The IRS tried to make training and testing mandatory a few years ago. But earlier this year a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that the IRS didn't have the legal authority to impose the new rules without congressional authorization.
Koskinen is pressing Congress for that authority.
Tax-giant H&R Block (HRB) issued a statement supporting the new program.
But the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which represents people in the accounting profession, questioned whether the IRS has the legal authority to administer the program.
Nina E. Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, said she supports competency requirements for tax preparers, but she is concerned that the testing in the new program won't be rigorous enough. Olson runs an independent office within the IRS.
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