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December 1, 2022

The Situation Around the Registered Tax Return Preparer Program Has Become a Really Bad Soap Opera

In case you weren't paying attention, the IRS's Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP) program just got shit-canned by a federal judge. Of course, as CPAs we don't really have to care about the RTRP program because we're exempt, as are our minions, as long as we promise to micromanage them.

Regardless, schadenfreude feels pretty damn good, especially when the IRS is on the schaden side of all that freude. That and it's a pretty good story. So if you're head's been up your tax hole recently, this briefing will catch you up to speed on the RTRP saga.
RTRP Origin Story
The push for what has became the RTRP program began back in 2002 when Nina Olsen, the United States Taxpayer Advocate, recommended regulation of federal tax return preparers in her annual report, stating,
Taxpayers are ill-equipped to assess the competency of someone’s expertise in an area in which they have limited knowledge themselves. […]  Taxpayers would be better served, and compliance would likely be improved, if tax preparers were required to meet minimum standards of competency.
She didn’t mention Liberty Tax Service by name, but we were all thinking it.
In 2009, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman announced that he was going to look into it, demonstrating that the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate has the power to make the IRS Commissioner sit up, take note, and not do anything for seven years.
The AICPA loved the RTRP program because it created barriers to entry into our profession and CPAs were not subject to its requirements. However, the AICPA was concerned that the RTRP designation “may cause confusion among taxpayers about the relative qualifications of tax return preparers.” In other words, “We'd like to keep all these underqualified sons of bitches out of the tax preparation business, but if we have to let them in, we want it to be clear to everybody that they’re underqualified sons of bitches.”
The AICPA also realized that the RTRP program could ruin our profession's internship programs. In its original form, interns couldn’t work on tax returns unless they passed the RTRP competency test and clocked the required CPE hours. Since CPAs hate brewing their own coffee, the AICPA focused its lobbying efforts on saving interns from the onerous RTRP requirements. As a result, the IRS backed down, exempting both “Supervised Preparers” and “Non-1040 Preparers." This makes perfect sense. Supervised Preparers, although clearly underqualified sons of bitches, don’t sign any returns1 and are directly supervised by a CPA, and Non-1040 Preparers don’t need to demonstrate competence because business and estate returns are so fucking easy.
The RTRP program officially started in January 2011, meaning everybody needed a PTIN to prepare 2010 returns. The continuing education and ethics requirements kicked off in 2012, and preparers were expected to pass the competency exam by the end of 2013.
The Great Spankening
All this was moving along in it’s weird, yet expected, bureaucratic way when out of nowhere three of these underqualified sons of bitches took the IRS to court and won, liberating stupid people to make money by helping even stupider people comply with the U.S. Tax Code. 
In a stunning blow to the Internal Revenue Service’s efforts to regulate the tax preparation profession, a federal judge struck down the IRS’s licensing requirements for tax preparers on Friday [January 18], including testing and continuing education.
While on the one hand, it’s always fun to see the IRS lose, on the other hand it seems weird that tax return preparers are less regulated than nail technicians, hunting guides, and funeral service directors2.
Nerd Fight
The IRS plans to appeal the decision, and requested the court to allow it to continue the RTRP program during the appeal process. It's kind of like a kid getting caught shoplifting a Snickers, and then asking if he can eat the candy while he waits for his parents to show up. But the three amigos who brought down the RTRP program contested the IRS’s request, and the judge clarified his ruling.
Judge Boasberg clarified that his injunction did not affect a separate set of regulations requiring tax preparers to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN, or prevent the IRS from operating its testing or continuing education centers on a strictly voluntary basis.
So, bottom line, you still need to pay $64.25 for a PTIN, and you can take the RTRP test for fun. Yippee ki -yay, motion filers.
1 Most of them can’t sign returns because they don’t know cursive.
2 Two things are certain: death and taxes, but only one requires a license.

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