Your Tax Professional, A Cop

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When I flew to visit my mother for Thanksgiving, I had to show my driver’s license to get through TSA security at the Las Vegas Airport. That’s not a surprise. When I prepare my mother’s tax return for 2016, I am required to note my mother’s drivers license number, the date it was issued, the date it expires, and the state it was issued by. No, I am not making this up.

I have become a cop. And I’m not happy about it.

The IRS (with the tacit support of tax software companies) has pushed this requirement on to tax professionals. Sure, it only takes two minutes to enter this information (four minutes if married filing jointly), so for a return it’s not that big of a deal. Multiply that by 500 returns, and you have 1,000 minutes. That’s nearly seventeen hours of work (likely more, as most of my clients are married).

Yes, this will aid in preventing some identity theft. Yes, some states have already required this information. (I know that Alabama did for 2015 tax returns.) Yes, I won’t need to reenter this for 2017 tax returns (unless the driver’s license information changes). But this is another 17 hours I don’t have during tax season.

Unfortunately, there’s more. When Congress passed the PATH Act, Congress increased due diligence requirements on tax professionals when preparing returns where taxpayers claim the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Additional Child Tax Credit, and/or the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The instructions note that tax professionals must,

Meet the knowledge requirement by interviewing the taxpayer, asking adequate questions, contemporaneously documenting the questions and the taxpayer’s responses in your notes, reviewing adequate information to determine if the taxpayer is eligible to claim the credit(s) and in what amount(s)….[emphasis added]

We don’t have many clients that take the Earned Income Credit. However, we have plenty of clients that take the Child Tax Credit (and/or the Additional Child Tax Credit) and the American Opportunity Credit. Tax professionals must now conduct an interview. Once again, there goes ten to fifteen minutes of time (that’s our estimate of the interview length). If we have 100 clients who take these credits, that’s another 21 hours of work.

Together, that’s nearly a 40-hour week. Yes, 2016 tax returns will cost more to prepare.

But that’s not all. Consider John and Jane Doe. They have a very simple return: W-2 income, a few deductions, and the usual 2.2 children. They drop off their paperwork in late March, and are surprised to discover they will go on extension. “Why?” they ask. That’s because their tax professional doesn’t have any interview spots available until after the April tax deadline.

The actions of the IRS and Congress have laudable goals. Reduction of identity theft and eliminating people incorrectly claiming tax credits are good ideas. However, because of the additional work, most taxpayers are going to discover that tax professional’s deadlines are very strict for 2016 returns. I know ours will be.

If you are a tax professional it’s probably worth revising your Engagement Letters to note these new requirements. And if you happen to have a spare cloning machine, please call me.

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