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IRS to boost regulation of tax preparers

WASHINGTON — The IRS plans to require tax preparers to pass a test and register with the government to better police a largely unregulated industry used by most taxpayers.

The Internal Revenue Service says there could be more than a million people offering tax preparation services. Most offer sound advice, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said, but many don't and the agency knows little about them.

The new regulations, announced Monday, won't be in effect for the current filing season — individual tax returns are due April 15.

But Shulman said tax preparers will be held to higher standards in future years as the IRS steps up its oversight to help reduce fraud and errors.

"Taxpayers will get improved service and enhanced standards from tax preparers, and they'll have less risk that they'll get bad advice," Shulman said. "The tax preparation industry will get more consistency and a level playing field."

Shulman said he hopes to have all paid tax preparers registered by the 2011 filing season.

Preparers will be given about three years to meet competency requirements, though there is much work to be done to develop standards and tests.

Eventually, tax preparers will be required to complete annual training and will be subject to penalties for unethical conduct, Shulman said. Taxpayers will be able to check preparers' credentials on a public IRS database.

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