Anyone can be a paid tax return preparer as long as they have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). However, tax return preparers have differing levels of skills, education and expertise.
Enrolled Agents – Licensed by the IRS. Enrolled agents are subject to a suitability check and must pass a three-part Special Enrollment Examination, which is a comprehensive exam that requires them to demonstrate proficiency in federal tax planning, individual and business tax return preparation, and representation. They must complete 72 hours of continuing education every 3 years.
Annual Filing Season Program Participants – This voluntary program recognizes the efforts of return preparers who are generally not attorneys, certified public accountants, or enrolled agents. It was designed to encourage education and filing season readiness. The IRS issues an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion to return preparers who obtain a certain number of continuing education hours in preparation for a specific tax year.
Limited Representation Rights: Some preparers without one of the above credentials have limited practice rights. They may only represent clients whose returns they prepared and signed, but only before revenue agents, customer service representatives, and similar IRS employees, including the Taxpayer Advocate Service. They cannot represent clients whose returns they did not prepare, and they cannot represent clients regarding appeals or collection issues even if they did prepare the return in question. Tax return preparers with limited representation rights include:
PTIN Holders – Tax return preparers who have an active preparer tax identification number, but no professional credentials and do not participate in the Annual Filing Season Program, are authorized to prepare tax returns. Beginning January 1, 2016, this is the only authority they have. They have no authority to represent clients before the IRS.