Is Your Barber More Trustworthy Than Your Tax Preparer?
Let me just begin by saying that I have great respect for barbers in general and mine in particular. I also have great respect for honest tax preparers. So, this is in no way a slight to members of either profession. However, with tax fraud and identity theft at epidemic proportions emerging out of every sector of the industry and beyond, from individual preparers to international cyber criminals, it is a topic that is of great concern for those of us in the industry as well as the Government and the IRS. It should be a concern for every taxpayer too.
Washington is engaged in taking steps to help prevent identity theft and fraud and protect taxpayers.
As always, the government simply can’t move as quickly as everyone would like them to. And, one of the issues that is often overlooked –that of the educational requirements of tax preparers – was addressed by Senate Finance Committee Banking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore. He recently issued the following statement regarding the recently scheduled markup of bills to curb identity theft and tax refund fraud and bolster other taxpayer protections:
“It’s long overdue that the Committee moves forward on this important legislation to protect taxpayers from fraud. However it’s missing a critical piece from the original bipartisan bill – requiring minimum standards for tax preparers – which is key to making the filing process safer and easier for consumers while curbing overall fraud. As another Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee before me wisely pointed out, it makes no sense that barbers are legally required to have more training than someone you trust with your social security number and banking information. (Italics mine) Taxpayers have a tough enough time getting their taxes done and in on time, they shouldn’t also have to worry about being scammed.”
Wyden’s statement says quite a lot for barbers while diminishing the role of many tax preparers. Though I’m not sure if his statement is accurate. Clearly, there are already “minimum standards” in place for tax preparers. The real issue is one of honesty and integrity, qualities that no amount of education or training can guarantee.
As an Enrolled Agent (EA), I am often amazed at the blind trust so many taxpayers place in those who prepare their taxes. It is infrequent that taxpayers research the background of those they trust to prepare their taxes. Most often the referral from a friend or acquaintance is sufficient. And most of the time it is.
The title of Enrolled Agent is a designation given by the IRS to tax advisors who have met certain requirements. EAs must pass a rigorous examination and background check as well as meet annual continuing professional education requirements. The designation is so exclusive that EAs account for less than 10 percent of all tax practitioners; they’re considered the best of the best. There is no question that you will do best when you select an Enrolled Agent to handle your taxes. An EA will provide thorough, insightful, professional service and a superior level of taxation expertise.
Maybe the minimum standard for tax preparers should be raised. But on the other hand, it just might be that barbers in general are simply by nature trustworthy, and less inclined to be criminals. Unless of course you consider The Barber of Seville!