Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Before we “close the book” on “who is a professional” let us look at what some other individuals have said regarding the definition of a professional in general, and tax professional in particular.

FYI, this post is a continuation to my earlier post “I Am A Professional!”, which was my response to a very offensive and totally illogical post by another tax blogger, which I took to be a personal attack on me.

First we hear from non tax professionals.

A reader of the offending blog named Dylan said of the post (the highlights are mine) –

I think your argument is a real stretch. Being a licensed attorney or CPA may extend you certain privileges and rights relating to matters of taxation that non-attorneys or non-CPAs don’t have, but it is not a license to prepare taxes.

Based on the definitions you cite, a tax preparer that conforms to the technical or ethical standards of tax preparation is a professional, especially (but a requirement) if they have advanced education.

You’re entitled to your opinion about who is a professional and who is not. But as a professional attorney, do you really think you embody higher learning and objectivity by labeling your personal belief that is not founded on proof or certainty as fact?

And for the record, I am not a tax preparer, attorney or CPA

Mary O’Keeffe writes the great tax blog BED BUFFALOES IN YOUR TAX CODE. She is a college professor and not a practicing paid tax professional. However she is a seasoned tax preparer, via her involvement with the IRS’ VITA program, and teaches tax topics. Here is some of what Mary had to say (again the highlight is mine) -

Here is the complete unabridged definition of profession from Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary:

‘Main Entry: pro•fes•sion

Etymology: Middle English professioun, from Anglo-French profession, from Late Latin & Latin; Late Latin profession-, professio, from Latin, public declaration, from profitēri
Date: 13th century

1 : the act of taking the vows of a religious community
2 : an act of openly declaring or publicly claiming a belief, faith, or opinion : protestation
3 : an avowed religious faith
4 a : a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation
b : a principal calling, vocation, or employment
c : the whole body of persons engaged in a calling’

There is absolutely nothing in the definition which requires validation by an independent, recognized regulatory regime. Some professions have such validation; others do not.

I consider myself to be in the economics profession. I have a PhD in economics, am paid for using my professional expertise in economics, and belong to professional societies in economics. I believe my professional credentials would stand up to scrutiny in a court proceeding, even though I am not subject to any “independent, regulatory regime.” It is also worthy of note that I have taught aspiring lawyers and accountants courses that counted toward obtaining THEIR professional credentials despite not having any government license myself.

Many professions should be regulated, as should be many amateurs, as I have said, but a person who happens to work in an occupation which is not regulated at a particular point in time is not, ispo facto, a non-professional.

The same is also true in reverse. I might, just for the heck of it, decide to sit for the Enrolled Agent exam some day, but passing it won’t make me a professional tax preparer, because I have no plans to charge anyone for my services

And now to the response of tax professionals.

Colleague and friend Bruce MacFarland, aka the “tax guy”, who is also an “unenrolled” tax preparer (although once upon a time a CPA), came to my defense in an extensive post on the subject titled “A Little Professionalism, If You Please”. In it he quotes from IRS Publication 470: Limited Practice Without Enrollment

Sec. 7. Ethics and Conduct .01 An unenrolled preparer shall act in such manner as not to commit any act of disreputable conduct. Disreputable conduct includes, but is not limited to, the items contained in section 10.51 of Circular 230.”

Bruce also says of the offending blogger’s twisted logic – “By what he is saying, Paul McCartney is not a professional. Disagree? Then please point out for us what impartial third party regulatory body has determined his core competence in music.”

In a supportive email to me on the subject CPA Stacie Clifford Kitts’, author of the blog STACIE’S MORE TAX TIPS, stated the obvious. “His basic premise that you must be regulated to be a member of a profession is silly.”

And another fellow tax blogger simply asked me about the offender in a “tweet” – “What bug crawled up (his) ass?

Sincere thanks to the fellow tax professionals, and the non-tax professionals, who came to my defense on this issue.

A CPA is not a tax professional by virtue of having passed the CPA exam and being granted a state license. A CPA is licensed to certify audits of financial statements and nothing else. A CPA is not a licensed tax preparer. A CPA is an accounting professional.

And let me say that a practicing Accountant who is not “certified” is no less of a professional than a CPA.

A lawyer is not a tax professional by virtue of having passed the Bar and being granted a state license to practice law. A lawyer is licensed to represent clients in legal matters before the various Courts and agencies of the State(s) whose bar he/she has passed. A lawyer is not a licensed tax preparer. A lawyer is a legal professional.

As I have said many times before here and elsewhere – a particular CPA or a lawyer may indeed be a tax professional, but it has absolutely positively nothing to do with his/her “initials” or designation!

Using the offending blogger’s twisted logic the only individuals who can call themselves a “tax professional” are Enrolled Agents – because they are the only individuals who are licensed and regulated by a government agency to prepare income tax returns. EAs who prepare tax returns for a living are truly tax professionals, but they are not the only tax professionals.

If the Congress and IRS decide that all tax preparers must register and be licensed in order to be able to prepare tax returns for a fee I will obviously comply with the regulations. As the offender has pointed out I support the registration and licensing of tax professionals. But getting a license from the IRS does not make me a tax professional. I am already a tax professional, and have been so for more than 30 years. The only thing that getting a government license makes me is licensed – a licensed tax professional.

What makes me a tax professional is my training, education and experience and the fact that I make my living preparing tax returns. Who has determined that I am a tax professional? The hundreds of clients who come back to me year after year after year, some for 30+ years, to pay me to prepare their returns.

The offender told Bruce MacFarland that his post was not a personal attack on me, but that “I thought it was appropriate given the recent proposals by the IRS to regulate unlicensed tax preparers

Poppycock. There was no substantive purpose for the post as written – except to tell his readers that I, and those like me, am not a professional. And it is clear by the description in his initial offending post that he was talking about me personally. And his subsequent post about my response certainly was a personal attack.

As I stated to Bruce in an email -

The topic of who is a professional as he has written it has absolutely nothing to do with the regulation of tax preparers. Tax preparers should be licensed so that existing unenrolled ‘professionals’ can be recognized for being ‘professionals’. A license does not make a person a professional. Earning a living in a profession or trade makes one a professional.”

I am a professional!

“Nuff said. End of story.


PS – Your comments are welcome and solicited.


Unknown said...


Stacie Clifford Kitts said...

Observation - the CPA industry is self regulated. In other words we make up our own rules. Just thought that was an interesting observation.

Robert D Flach said...


An excellent observation!

Gee - so according to the offender's logic CPAs, being self-regulated, are professionals because they say they are!


Stacie Clifford Kitts said...

And if we continue with this logic, if you have quality control procedures that you have implemented and follow, you too are self regulated and therefore are a professional.