If you are looking for a tax professional to help you prepare your income tax return, the IRS has created a brand new directory you may find useful: an online directory of tax return preparers. The directory includes the name, credential, state, and zip code of attorneys, certified public accountants, enrolled agents, and those who have completed the requirements for the voluntary IRS filing season program. All preparers listed also have valid 2015 Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTIN)—this is an identification number that all paid tax returns must use on federal tax returns filed with the IRS. However, inclusion in the directory does not constitute an endorsement of the person by the IRS.
The directory by no means includes all tax preparers. Preparers with PTINs who are not attorneys, CPAs, enrolled agents, or Annual Filing Season Program participants are not included; nor are volunteer tax return preparers who offer free services. This eliminates 600,000 to 700,000 of the 1.2 million tax preparers in the United States.
The uncredentialed preparers excluded from the directory are exactly the type of people the IRS has been trying to regulate for the past several years with very limited success. One scheme that the IRS tried was to require preparers to register with the IRS, take classes, and pass a test. However, this was rejected by the courts. So, the directory may be the IRS’s way of encouraging taxpayers to avoid engaging the services of largely unregulated uncredentialed preparers. Attorneys and certified public accountants are licensed and regulated by state boards of accountancy and bar associations. Enrolled agents are regulated by the IRS and must pass an exam.
One caveat is that the IRS says that attorney and CPA credentials are self-reported for inclusion in the directory. The IRS verifies attorney and CPA credentials before including them in the directory but the agency says that an attorney or CPA credential could become invalid after verification and it would have no way of knowing it. To make sure an attorney or CPA has a valid license, you should contact the state board of accountancy or state bar.
Also, inclusion of a person in the directory doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she will be willing to prepare your return or do so for a reasonable price. So you may want to find several names when you do your search. The directory is searchable by preferred credential, or by location (including tax pros who have practiced abroad and may be more familiar with international tax issues).
You can find the directory on the IRS website at http://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf.