The more than 23,000 current members of the AICPA Tax Section realize substantially enhanced benefits as a result of their membership. Tax Section members are representative of the overall AICPA membership: approximately 16,000 identify themselves as working in various-sized CPA firms ranging from sole practitioners to inter- national, multi-office firms; 5,000 are employed in business and industry; and 2,000 work as consultants, attorneys, government employees and educators. The Tax Section continually reviews and enhances the services provided to members, striving to maximize benefits provided.
Members are generally surveyed biannually, with results reviewed by staff and the various Tax Section committees. In response to a 2006 member survey, approximately 20 new member services are currently being developed. A standing Tax Division committee, the Tax Practice Improvement Committee, is specifically charged to work with other Tax Division committees and task forces to ensure the development of products and services that improve the quality, efficiency and profitability of members’ tax practices, be they employed in public accounting, industry, government or education. This column describes some of the tax products and resources available to Tax Section members.
Annual Tax ChecklistsConsistently rated as among the most valuable of the Tax Section benefits is a comprehensive package of tax practice checklists made available to members both online and via CD-ROM, along with permission to reproduce these aids for use in their firms and organizations. Over 100 checklists are included in the annual package, covering all major tax returns and forms, as well as practice management tools ranging from sample organizers to assorted forms. These checklists are prepared by a highly qualified group of staff members and volunteer practitioners and reflect the latest legislative, regulatory and practice developments. Prior to publication and distribution, the checklists are further reviewed by a task force of content area specialists. The checklists are widely used by firms and organizations of all sizes, including the largest international firms.
Beginning in November of each year, illustrative engagement letters and organizers are posted to the Tax Division’s website, then updated for late-breaking legislative developments. In January of each filing season, a CD-ROM containing all of the year’s tax practice guides and checklists is mailed to each Tax Section member.
Tax E-AlertsThe Tax Division staff closely monitors tax developments in Washington, DC, as well as in practice, and prepares biweekly Tax E-Alerts for electronic distribution to Tax Section members. These include “tax news you can use” on topics such as legislation, regulations, court decisions and practice developments, presented in a straightforward format and written from a practical perspective. Such items clearly and succinctly discuss the developments’ importance and include links to primary source documents. Recent Tax E-Alerts provided coverage of the three major tax bills passed in 2006 and included practical tips intended to assist practitioners even before the legislation was signed. E-Alerts also cover leading-edge technology and other practice management issues.
Topical Practice GuidesThe Tax Division’s staff and volunteer technical resource panels (TRPs) regularly prepare topical practice guides in most areas in which tax advisers may desire guidance. These guides are conveniently indexed by topic on the Tax Center website as premium content available at no charge to Tax Section members only; new guides and tools are constantly being added. In recent months, the Practice Guide on Financial Accounting Standards Board Interpretation No. (FIN) 48, Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes, has been downloaded by over 20,000 AICPA members. Similarly, a PowerPoint (and .pdf) presentation, “2006 Year in Review,” was added earlier this year for adaptation by members for use in their own organizations and with their clients. Practice guides cover countless technical areas, such as exempt organizations, employee benefits, international issues, estate and gift taxes, state and local taxes, partnerships and individuals.
In addition to providing tools and aids for commonly requested topics, highly specialized guidance is available. For example, in the Individual Taxation area, topics range from information on unmarried couples, gay couples, divorce, terminal illness and death, to tax issues for household employees. In the State and Local Tax area, assistance is offered on issues including nexus, voluntary disclosure programs, the Internet and use taxes. Extensive guidance is also provided on topical areas including investments, estate and gift tax planning and business succession planning.
The Tax AdviserThe Tax Adviser is the CPA profession’s premier tax publication; members rate it as one of the top benefits of Tax Section membership. Boasting a circulation of over 19,000 subscribers, the magazine contains timely, in-depth articles both technical and practical, including pieces written by Tax Division members who are among the top specialists in their fields. This monthly journal of tax planning trends and techniques is available in print to Tax Section members at a nominal fee (currently, $30 for 12 issues), representing a more-than-50% discount from the regular price.
Discounts on Tax Tools and ConferencesTax Division members benefit from extensive AICPA-negotiated discount programs, beyond those available to general AICPA members. Such discounts apply to products frequently used by tax practitioners, including, for example, 40% discounts on RIA desktop references (Code, regulations and Annual Tax Manual). Discounts are also offered on a multitude of AICPA webcasts and tax conferences, ranging from the National Conference on Federal Taxes to professional education meetings covering estate planning, nonprofit organizations, employee benefits, business succession and national CPA/IRS tax issues. The discounts offered on a single conference often offset the annual Tax Division dues.
Tax Center WebsiteTax Section members have exclusive access to the AICPA Tax Center website. Members who have trouble logging onto this site may obtain assistance by calling (800) 708-8775 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This website is constantly being updated and expanded, with many new tax practice guides and tools added in the last year. The “Events” page contains videos of numerous sessions from the November 2006 National Conference on Federal Taxes.
Plans for enhancements in the upcoming year include topic-specific webcasts, guidance on tax-strategy patents, a dedicated channel for members in business and industry, as well as one for tax faculty, students and young CPAs. One especially valuable feature, accessible on the “Community” page, contains online discussion forums that allow members to ask questions and obtain advice from other members. The topics cover tax issues of particular relevance to members’ own practices. Because these discussion forums are open only to Tax Section members, use of actual names (rather than screen names) is encouraged, further enhancing the value of this exclusive member benefit. The “Resources” page provides a categorized list of all resources available to Tax Section members, as well as a comprehensive list of useful links especially helpful to tax practitioners.
Tax Legislation Monitoring and AdvocacyTax Division staff and committee members closely monitor developments in the Federal government related to tax legislation and regulatory actions. As needed, staff and members prepare tax policy position papers to help guide tax legislation and regulations; such papers consider the effect and compliance burden on both taxpayers and tax advisers. Recent policy papers have analyzed options for dealing with Social Security and fundamental tax reform, while a position paper addressing the “tax gap” is currently being developed. Such papers help establish the AICPA and the CPA profession as recognized sources of quality tax policy analysis in Washington, DC, and serve to improve future tax laws. These analyses are also made available to Tax Section members and are included on the website to aid members who may be asked to comment on these developing tax issues.
In addition, Tax Division committees and TRPs develop comments on proposed legislation and regulations, in an effort to make them simpler, fairer and easier to administer. Such comments are written with the public interest (as well as the tax practitioner’s perspective) in mind. Comments submitted range from narrow technical issues to broader tax practice issues—for example, whether tax planning techniques should be patentable. These comments are also made available on the website and are communicated to Tax Section members for their consideration and advance notice.
Tax Ethical StandardsThe AICPA Tax Division’s Tax Executive Committee is authorized to issue binding standards under the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct and has issued a series of Statements on Standards for Tax Services, as well as interpretations thereof. The Division also actively comments on and provides guidance on external practice standards, such as Circular 230, Regulations Governing the Practice of Attorneys, Certified Public Accountants, Enrolled Agents, Enrolled Actuaries, and Appraisers Before the Internal Revenue Service. A section of the Tax Center website includes documents and articles on compliance. Such standards ensure that Treasury, IRS officials and the general public are aware of AICPA and Tax Section members’ opinions and positions.
Membership and Volunteer OpportunitiesIn addition to the benefits described above, Tax Section members can take pride in belonging to the premier CPA tax professional organization, and have an opportunity to participate in major issues affecting tax practice in the U.S. Annually, nearly 250 members volunteer to serve on the various Tax Division committees and task forces. Volunteer opportunities and registration forms are described on the AICPA website. Tax Section members can be proud of their profession and their professional organization as it supports member practices, represents their interests in Washington, DC, and encourages high ethical standards of tax practice.
Mr. Holub is a former chair of the AICPA Tax Division’s Tax Practice Management Committee. Mr. Porter is the chair of the AICPA Tax Division’s Tax Practice Improvement Committee. For more information about this column, contact Ms. Rubin at email@example.com.