Survey suggests taxpayers want more done to fight tax fraud, improve preparers

April 6, 2014 

Americans would do more to battle tax fraud, including waiting longer for tax refunds, according to a survey by H&R Block Inc.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based tax preparer said its survey also found that 90 percent of taxpayers support training and continuing education requirements for tax preparers, Block Chief Executive Bill Cobb said Tuesday in announcing the results.

Cobb spoke at a conference in Washington, D.C., that Block partly sponsored. He said only four states set standards for tax preparers, though nearly all 50 states license and set competency tests for those who cut hair.

“Something is out of whack when you are better protected getting your hair cut than sitting across the desk from a tax preparer,” Cobb said.

The Internal Revenue Service lost a court battle over its proposal to require competency tests and continuing education for tax preparers. John Koskinen, the agency’s commissioner, said recently that a voluntary program also could help consumers identify “fraudsters” and incompetent preparers.

“It’s important for taxpayers to have some confidence that anybody hanging out a shingle as a tax preparer has some minimal amount of training and capacity and capability,” Koskinen said during a visit here in February.

Dan Alban, the lead attorney in the court fight against the IRS proposed requirements, said a voluntary program is exactly the approach to take.

Seasoned preparers, Alban said, wouldn’t need to incur the costs of training or certification because they have established credibility with customers. Someone starting out, however, could use the credentials to attract business, he said.

Alban said the mandatory program would create unnecessary costs that would probably drive many small preparers out of business and their customers to established firms such as H&R Block.

H&R Block’s survey focused on tax fraud and found that 70 percent of taxpayers would put up with more questions on their tax forms to combat fraud.

Sixty percent would wait longer for a refund, Block said, regardless of their income level or whether they typically get a refund.

Mark Davis writes for The Kansas City Star.

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