The IRS requires all paid tax preparers to register with the IRS, to obtain a PTIN, and for those preparers who are not CPAs, attorneys, EAs, supervised preparers or non-1040 preparers to pass a competency exam, and a tax compliance and suitability check. When the preparer has successfully fulfilled these two requirements, he or she will be considered a Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP). All preparers who have obtained a Provisional PTIN before April 18, 2012, will have until December 31, 2013 to pass the RTRP competency test. After the April 18, 2012 date passes, paid preparers will not be issued a PTIN until they have passed the competency exam and background check.
The RTRP competency exam contains 120 questions in multiple-choice and true or false format. RTRP candidates will be given 2.5 hours to complete the exam.
The IRS has published 7 main subject areas that will be covered on the exam.
· Preliminary Work and Collection of Taxpayer Data
· Treatment of Income and Assets
· Deductions and Credits
· Other Taxes
· Completion of the Filing Process
· Practices and Procedures
Preparing for the test
The IRS released a list of recommended study materials for the RTRP to assist in test preparation. This list is not all encompassing, but rather only a highlight of what the test candidates will need to know.
· Circular 230, Regulations Governing Practice before the Internal Revenue Service (Rev. 8-2011)
· Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (2011)
· Form 1040 Instructions (2011)
· Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative (Rev. 10-2011)
· Form 2848 Instructions (Rev. 10-2011)
· Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax – Individuals (2011)
· Form 6251 Instructions (2011)
· Form 8821, Tax Information Authorization (Rev. 10-2011)
· Form 8867, Paid Preparers Earned Income Credit Checklist (2011)
· Form 8879, IRS e-File Signature Authorization (2011)
· Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax* (2011)
· Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Business (2011)
· Publication 596, Earned Income Credit (EIC) (2011)
· Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education (2011)
· Publication 1345, Handbook for Authorized IRS e-file Providers (Rev. 3-2009)
· Publication 4600, Safeguarding Taxpayer Information Quick Reference Guide for Businesses (Rev. 10-2008)
Main Subject Areas That Will Be Covered On The Exam
Below is a list of areas that the IRS released to allow tax preparers to know what to focus on for each specific subject area. The examples provided within each item are not all inclusive of what may be tested in a given area. The IRS has stated regarding the test formulation, “All efforts have been made to develop questions and answers based on general tax rules covered in IRS publications, forms and instructions rather than exceptions found only in the Internal Revenue Code or Income Tax Regulations”.
Preliminary Work and Collection of Taxpayer Data
1. Review prior year’s return for accuracy, comparison, and carryovers for current year return.
2. Collect taxpayer’s biographical information (e.g., date of birth, age, marital status, citizenship, dependents).
3. Determine filing status.
4. Determine all sources of taxable and non-taxable income (e.g., wages, interest, business, sale of property, dividends, rental income, income from flow-through entities, alimony, government payments, and pension distributions).
5. Determine applicable adjustments to gross income (e.g., self-employed health insurance, self-employment tax, student loan interest deduction, alimony paid, tuition, and fees deduction).
6. Determine standard deduction and Schedule A itemized deductions (e.g., state and local tax, real estate tax, cash contributions, non-cash contributions, unreimbursed employee expense, medical expense, and mortgage interest).
7. Determine applicable credits (e.g., Earned Income Tax Credit, child tax credit, education, retirement savings, dependent and childcare credit).
8. Understand tax payments (e.g., withholding, estimated payments).
9. Recognize items that will affect future returns (e.g., carryovers, depreciation).
10. Determine special filing requirements (e.g., presidentially declared disaster areas).
11. Determine filing requirements (including extensions and amended returns).
12. Understand due dates, including extensions.
13. Determine personal exemptions, including dependents.
14. Determine qualifying child/relative tests for Earned Income Credit.
Treatment of Income and Assets
1. Taxability of wages, salaries, tips, and other earnings (e.g., W-2 Wage and Tax Statement, cash).
2. Interest income (taxable and non-taxable) (e.g., Schedule B and 1099-INT).
3. Dividend income (e.g., Schedule B and 1099-DIV).
4. Self-employment income and expenses (e.g., Schedule C Profit or Loss From Business and Form 1099-MISC Miscellaneous Income, cash).
5. Rental income and expenses (e.g., Schedule E Supplemental Income and Loss).
6. Identification of forgiveness of debt as income (including Form 1099-C Cancellation of Debt).
7. Other income (e.g., alimony, barter income, hobby income, non-taxable combat pay, state income tax refund from prior years, prizes).
B. Retirement income
1. Reporting requirements of Social Security benefits (e.g., Form SSA-1099 Social Security Benefit Statement).
2. Taxable distribution from an IRA including basis in an IRA (e.g., Form 8606 Non-deductible IRAs).
3. Distributions from qualified plans (e.g., 401k, IRA, Roth IRA).
4. Required minimum distributions from retirement plans.
C. Property, real and personal
1. Short-term and long-term capital gains and losses (e.g., Schedule D Capital Gains and Losses, Form 1099-B Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions).
2. Determination of basis of assets (e.g., purchased, gifted, or inherited).
3. Sale of non-business assets (gains or losses).
4. Sale of a principal residence (e.g., IRC 121 exclusions, 1099S Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions).
D. Adjustments to income
1. Self-employment tax (e.g., Schedule SE Self-Employment Tax).
2. Tuition and fees (e.g., Form 8917 Tuition and Fees Deduction, Form 1098T Tuition Statement).
3. Eligible Moving expenses (e.g., Form 3903 Moving Expenses).
4. Other adjustments to income (e.g., IRA contribution deduction).
Deductions and Credits
A. Itemized deductions
1. Medical and dental expenses.
2. State, local, and real estate taxes.
3. Mortgage interest expense (e.g., Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement).
4. Charitable contributions (e.g., cash, non-cash, Form 8283 Non-Cash Charitable Contributions).
5. Miscellaneous itemized deductions (including deductions subject to 2% AGI Limit).
6. Employee travel, transportation, education, and entertainment expenses (e.g., Form 2106-EZ and Form 2106 Unreimbursed Employee Business Expenses).
1. Child and dependent care credit (e.g., Form 2441 Child and Dependent Care Expenses).
2. Child Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit (e.g., Form 8812, Additional Child Tax Credit).
3. Education credits (e.g., Form 8863 Education Credits (American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits), Form 1098T Tuition Statement).
4. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) (e.g., Schedule EIC Earned Income Credit, Form 8867 Paid Preparer’s Earned Income Credit Checklist).
5. Retirement savings contribution credit (e.g., Form 8880 Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions).
1. Alternative Minimum Tax (e.g., Form 6251 Alternative Minimum Tax).
2. Early distributions from retirement plans (e.g., Form 5329 Additional Tax on Qualified Plans).
3. Self-employment tax (e.g., Schedule SE Self-Employment Tax).
4. Unreported Social Security and Medicare tax (e.g., Form 4137 Social Security and Medicare Tax on Unreported Tip Income).
5. Repayment of first-time homebuyer credit (including Form 5405 First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit).
Completion of the Filing Process
1. Check return for completeness and accuracy.
2. Explain and review tax return.
3. Explain record-keeping requirements to the taxpayer.
4. Discuss significance of signatures (e.g., joint and several liability, penalty of perjury, Form 8879 IRS e-file Signature Authorization).
5. Understand tax preparer’s responsibilities related to rejected electronic returns.
6. Understand timeframe for submitting electronic returns (e.g., Form 8879 taxpayer signature and date prior to submission).
7. Understand payment options (e.g., check, direct debit, EFTPS, credit card, installment agreement-Form 9465).
8. Understand estimated tax payment requirements (e.g., potential for penalties, Form 1040-ES Estimated Tax).
9. Understand refund options (e.g., Form 8888 Allocation of Refund).
Practices and Procedures
1. Penalties to be assessed by the IRS against a preparer for negligent or intentional disregard of rules and regulations, and for a willful understatement of liability (e.g., IRC 6694(a), IRC 6694(b)).
2. Appropriate use of Form 8867 Paid Preparer’s Earned Income Credit Checklist and related penalty for failure to exercise due diligence (e.g., IRC 6695(g)).
3. Furnishing a copy of a return to a taxpayer (e.g., IRC 6695(a)).
4. Signing returns and furnishing identifying (PTIN) numbers (e.g., IRC 6695(b), IRC 6695(c)).
5. Rules for the return preparer for keeping copies and/or lists of returns prepared (e.g., IRC 6695(d)).
6. Compliance with e-file procedures (e.g., timing of taxpayer signature, timing of filing, recordkeeping, prohibited filing with pay stub).
7. Completion and use of Form 2848 Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative and Form 8821 Tax Information Authorization.
8. Safeguarding taxpayer information (e.g., Publication 4600 Safeguarding Taxpayer Information, Quick Reference Guide for Business, IRC 7216).
Circular 230 Subparts A, B, and C (excluding D, E), covering topics including, but not limited to, the following:
1. Preparer’s due diligence for accuracy of representations made to clients and IRS; reliance on third-party work products (Circular 230, section 10.22).
2. What constitutes practice before the IRS and categories of individuals who may practice (Circular 230, sections 10.2(a)(4) and 10.3).
3. Limits on practice by a registered tax return preparer (Circular 230, section 10.3(f)).
4. Requirement to furnish information to IRS upon request (Circular 230, section 10.20).
5. Prompt disposition of matters before the IRS (Circular 230, section 10.23).
6. Prohibition on receiving assistance from or providing assistance to disciplined practitioners (Circular 230, section 10.24).
7. Rules regarding fees, including contingent fees (Circular 230, section 10.27).
8. Rules in dealing with clients, including return of client records, conflicts of interest, advising on omissions and errors, solicitation (including advertising), and negotiation of taxpayer refund checks (Circular 230, sections 10.21, 10.28, 10.29, 10.30, and 10.31).
9. Due diligence standards with respect to tax returns and other documents; standards for signing, advising positions on returns and advising submissions of other documents; advising on penalties; good faith reliance on client information; reasonable inquiries regarding incomplete, inconsistent, incorrect information (Circular 230, sections 10.34 and 10.35).
10. Responsibility of individual(s) who have principal authority over a firm’s tax practices (Circular 230, section 10.36).
11. Incompetence and disreputable conduct that can result in disciplinary proceedings (Circular 230, sections 10.51 and 10.52).
12. Sanctions that may be imposed under Circular 230 (Circular 230, sections 10.50 and 10.60).
For more information you can check out the IRS Registered Tax Return Preparer Test Candidate Information Bulletin.