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AICPA Lays the Smackdown on Dear Abby

Here’s what went down. On July 13, Helpless Big Brother wrote:

I have just learned that my sister's husband of 35 years (I'll call him George) hasn't filed their personal income taxes going back a number of years. … Apparently, he hasn't filed because of his inability to organize.1

Their professional tax preparer has met with both of them2 and tried to work out a step-by-step program, but George consistently fails to meet the deadlines. … She has copies of business-related documents relating to the unfiled tax periods, but not enough information to file on her own.

… What else can I do?

To which Dear Abby replied:

[Your sister] and her husband may need more help than their CPA has been able to give them. A group that I have mentioned in my column before is the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA). These are tax specialists — some of whom are attorneys and CPAs — who are specifically licensed by the Department of the Treasury. Tell your sister to contact an enrolled agent by visiting TODAY.

What was that, now? Did you just say that CPAs suck balls and that EAs are the shit? Not on AICPA Tax Executive Committee chairman Troy K. Lewis’s watch.

DEAR ABBY: May I offer some clarification to you and your readers … ?

In fact, THREE3 groups of tax preparers have unlimited practice rights under Department of the Treasury regulations to represent their clients on any matters before the IRS — certified public accountants, attorneys and enrolled agents.

None are more qualified than CPAs. CPAs are licensed by state regulators and must meet minimum education requirements to sit for their national licensing exam and then fulfill ongoing continuing education requirements, as well as abide by a code of professional ethics.4

Enrolled agents are often former IRS employees who are licensed by the IRS after passing an exam. Enrolled agents are competent and respected5 tax professionals, but the fact they are licensed by the IRS does not mean they are better qualified or superior in serving clients than are CPAs or attorneys. … — TROY K. LEWIS, CPA

And Dear Abby took it.

DEAR MR. LEWIS: Thank you for the clarification and for expanding my reply to that letter. It was not my intention to imply that CPAs are less qualified than enrolled agents — and if I created that impression, I sincerely apologize.6

The AICPA must’ve felt like it needed to protect the CPA brand because Abby’s syndicated advice column boasts a daily readership of more than 110 million. And it’s clear that Dear Abby is a huge fan of enrolled agents because they’re not qualified to audit her daily readership numbers.

1 Maybe tax preparers should start sending all of their clients annual tax organizers. The longer the better.
2 Hopefully while still wearing his Statue of Liberty costume.
3 That’s right — ALL CAPS — probably because he had a licensed CPA perform agreed-upon procedures to verify the number of groups of tax preparers with unlimited practice rights to represent their clients on matters before the IRS.
4 Fortunately our code of ethics does not prohibit us from being dickish to nice old ladies who are giving free advice to anonymous readers.
5 The AICPA shows its respect for enrolled agents by making sure everyone knows that enrolled agents vastly inferior to CPAs.
6 Now re-read Dear Abby’s reply with as much sarcasm and condescension as you can muster.