Last year, three independent tax preparers, Sabina Loving of Chicago, Illinois, John Gambino of Hoboken, N.J., and Elmer Kilian of Eagle, Wisconsin, took on the IRS, accusing it among other things, of lacking the authority to license tax preparers. The three retained lead attorney Dan Alban of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, in filing suit against the IRS in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg issued an opinion that would bar the IRS from regulating tax preparers – all just days before the new tax season officially opens for business. (Jan 30, 2013)
The scheme to regulate tax preparers was a top priority for the IRS which felt that requiring tax preparers to register with the IRS, pass a competency test and take continuing education classes would protect taxpayers from potentially fraudulent preparers. The new system required registration (along with a fee), a competency exam and annual requirements to take at least 15 continuing education credits. In exchange for compliance, beginning in 2011, the IRS began issuing PTINs (Preparer Tax Identification Numbers) which must be included on paid returns; a public database of those tax preparers with valid PTINs was expected to be posted on the IRS web site.
But not everyone thought that regulation was a good idea: Under the new rules, attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents (EAs) are exempt from the competency testing and continuing education requirements. That means that the real burden of complying with the new regulations tends to hit independent tax preparers and small businesses disproportionately – those who, under the new rules, must meet the criteria to be called a Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP). Without that designation, unless a preparer meets an exemption or exception, he or she may not work. Loving – and other tax preparers – thought those rules were unfair. That’s how the matter ended up in district court.
Generally, a final ruling by a district court can be appealed to the United States court of appeals in the federal judicial circuit in which the district court is located. In this case, the matter would be appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – we can expect an appeal from the IRS.
But while all that gets sorted out, tax preparers wonder: what does this all mean for the upcoming tax season? That’s not exactly clear. In theory, the decision should allow unregulated and unregistered tax preparers to file tax returns when the season opens on January 30. However, that’s just days away – and the IRS has a system in place already predicated on the idea that preparers have to be registered with a valid PTIN. Whether a return submitted by an unregistered preparer will bounce because of the IRS system is yet to be determined. The IRS has not yet issued a statement about the ruling.