The Internal Revenue Service has announced that the Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs) for 2018 is underway. All current PTINs will expire on December 31, 2017.
If you’re scratching your head and thinking that you seem to recall that tax return preparers no longer need a PTIN, here’s the reason for the confusion.
The PTIN system was shut down earlier this year following a U.S. District Court ruling which barred IRS from charging PTIN fees to tax return preparers. The ruling was in response to a class action suit which challenged the right of the IRS to require and charge for PTINs. A PTIN is an identifying number – like a Social Security number – for tax return preparers and certain other tax professionals. Since 1999, tax return preparers have been able to use a PTIN on tax returns instead of their Social Security Numbers; they also used to be free.
The IRS began charging a fee for PTINs in 2010 after the implementation of new rules which made PTINs mandatory. The IRS was sued on both counts – the PTIN requirement and the fee. The Court ruled in Adam Steele, et al. v. United States of America (Case No. 1:14-cv-01523-RCL) that the IRS could continue to require the use of PTINs for tax preparers but the Court also ruled that the IRS was not allowed to charge for PTINs.
What this means is that for the 2018 filing season, anyone who prepares or helps to prepare any federal tax return (or claim for refund) for compensation must have a valid PTIN. Also, all enrolled agents, regardless of whether they prepare returns, must have a PTIN to maintain their status. Failure to have and use a valid PTIN may result in penalties.
Tax professionals can renew their PTIN or register for a new PTIN online at Tax professionals who prefer to renew using paper can submit federal form W-12, IRS Paid Preparer Tax Identification Number Application and Renewal (downloads as a pdf); those who file using paper should be prepared to wait four to six weeks for processing. Again, there is no fee for obtaining or renewing a PTIN.
If you’re planning to prepare returns in 2018, the IRS asks that you act now. “We ask that you renew your PTIN as soon as possible to avoid a last-minute rush,” said Carol A. Campbell, Director, IRS Return Preparer Office. “It’s easy to let this slip as the holiday season approaches.”
What does all of this mean for taxpayers? It’s business as usual. Just remember that, like last year, anyone who prepares federal tax returns for compensation must have an up to date PTIN. A tax preparer is not allowed to prepare your return without a valid PTIN. For a list of tax professionals with current PTINs, you can search the IRS online PTIN directory.

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

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