The IRS is forging ahead as part of its master plan to increase oversight of tax preparers across the country. In addition to Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) registration, the IRS will require certain paid tax preparers to pass a competency test by December 31, 2013.

It’s the certain in the phrase “certain tax preparers” that’s still causing controversy. Enrolled Agents (EAs), Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and attorneys are exempt from the new testing and education requirements since the IRS believes that these groups already have stringent guidelines in place.

Those tax return preparers who do not have the EA, CPA or attorney designation – or are otherwise exempt – must pass the competency test by the deadline. If they do, they will be designated as a Registered Tax Return Preparer. To maintain the designation, those tax return preparers must complete 15 hours of continuing education credits each year and renew their PTINs.

The fee for the test is $116 which includes a cut for a third party vendor, Prometric. This fee is in addition to the fee for PTIN renewal. Yup, it’s getting a whole lot more expensive to do returns these days.

Test scheduling begins next week (way to start off the holiday season, right?) and can be done using the online PTIN account at (payment is due at the time you sign up). If you don’t have an online PTIN account, you can schedule an appointment and pay for the test by calling 855-477-3926.

The test will cover the form 1040 and related schedules. You can find out more information about what’s included on the test from this prior post.

I’m no test maverick so I will admit to not having a complete understanding of how these things are decided but the initial word on results is a bit confusing. Apparently, the guinea pigs who sign up in the beginning won’t receive their test scores for two to six weeks; this will “allow the IRS to validate the exam and determine the pass/fail cutoff.” After those details are worked out, future test-takers will receive their scores immediately upon completing the test.

It’s clear that there are some kinks to be worked out. I know a lot of tax pros have concerns about how smoothly the testing will go – especially after the fiasco that was the initial PTIN registration. It has to be better this time, right?

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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