I Spilled my Coffee Thanks to Joe Kristan

This morning, Joe Kristan posted about an Iowa couple who had a unique method of preparing tax returns. I made the mistake of reading the actual court decision while drinking my morning coffee:

According to [the defendants], if you believe that looking successful helps make you successful, your clothes, hair care, and manicures are deductible. If your dog barks while you are away from your home based business, it’s deductible. If your child’s nanny ever answered the business phone, the nanny is deductible. If you visit a business associate while on vacation, it is deductible. If you pay rent to yourself, or even if you don’t, it’s deductible. If you have a six year old child, payments to the child are deductible employee expenses. If you have used your living room television in a business meeting, it’s deductible. And your hobbies, like scuba diving, pet cats and flying, easily deductible.

The trouble was that I was laughing so much that the coffee hit the carpet. As you hopefully know, none of the items noted by the Court are deductible; the defendants in this case absolutely deserve their permanent injunction.

On a more serious note, Joe noted,

The case is noteworthy in another respect: it shows how useless competency exams and CPE requirements are in stopping rogue preparers. One of the preparers — the one who signed all of the disputed returns — was an Enrolled Agent. That meant he had to pass a competency test that is certainly more difficult than any that will be imposed by the new IRS preparer regulation regime. He also had to take continuing education to maintain that status. [emphasis in original]

I disagree somewhat with Joe regarding competency exams, but agree with him regarding CPE.

Competency exams will weed out the lowest of the low hanging fruit. There are undoubtedly some preparers who are so incompetent that they have no chance of passing any exam. In that respect, the RTRP exams will have an impact.

However, CPE is what you make out of it. For most tax professionals, CPE gives us a chance to learn new material in tax. True tax professionals attend courses and want to learn.

That said, it’s relatively easy for an incompetent preparer to obtain CPE. Just go to courses, doodle on the materials presented, and go home still believing that petting your dog is deductible. As long as you attend the full course (typically, your badge is scanned upon entering and leaving) you will get CPE. Attend enough CPE and your license can be renewed.

Joe would prefer that the money being spent on building a new bureaucracy be used to spot rogue preparers. Originally, I was indifferent about the new PTIN and registration requirements. (For the record, the National Association of Enrolled Agents, of which I am a member, strongly supports both.) I am now moving more towards Joe’s opinion (that this is more or less a power grab by the IRS with no real benefits to taxpayers or tax professionals).

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