Clergy Tax Preparation since 1989
I'm the Rev. Deb Oskin, EA, FNTPI, and I'm an Enrolled Agent specializing in Clergy and Congregational Taxation.
Okay, let's back up a bit. First, I'm a third-generation tax preparer. My grandmother was an accountant for the City of New York, and prepared my first 1040EZ tax return for me! My father was an engineer who wrote computer programs on his laptop that he used helping others as a VITA volunteer tax preparer.
Second, after my husband was ordained to set-apart ministry in 1989, we moved into a church parsonage. After the end of our first year there, I found out (the hard way) that clergy taxes were a really different animal than our prior Schedule C returns had been. We were fresh out of Seminary, all rosy-cheeked and rosy-eyed, and knew nothing at all about how Self-Employment tax affected Clergy employees.
Like many young families, we were used to getting refunds. But this was NOT a refund! That first year it took every penny we had to pay the Self-Employment taxes. I literally sat in a corner and cried---I felt like I'd failed my family. We were fortunate that we had the resources to pay that bill. Many others don't have the money to pay it, and each year rolls into the next, creating a snowball of tax debt that looks impossible to escape.
I don't want anyone else to experience this if I can help it.
Years later, I started working for H&R Block. The 11 years I spent there were great---I learned a lot. I left having achieved their highest level of tax competency and the highest level of teaching certification in our combined Metro District.
While I was at the H&R Block Premium Office, I decided to become an Enrolled Agent. I studied hard, and passed the three tax competency exams (including all areas of the U.S. Tax Code) on my first try. I passed the Background Check (which some of my funnier friends doubted could happen!), and achieved the IRS's highest credential, Enrolled Agent, in 2007.
Entrolled Agents, CPAs, and Attorneys are called "Circular 230" tax professionals. Circular 230 is the document that regulates behavior among credentialed preparers who have authority to represent individuals and businesses before the IRS when they are being audited. In other words, we go so you don't have to! The difference is that CPAs and Attorneys can only represent individuals and businesses located in the state(s) in which they are licensed; both these professions are regulated by state boards.
Enrolled Agents, however, are the only credentialed tax professionals who can represent any person or business that is required to file a U.S. tax return---wherever in the world they might be located. IRS says the Enrolled Agent credential is the most expansive credential it confers.
Shortly thereafter, I realized I knew next to nothing about actually representing clients when I went to my first IRS office audit here in Columbus, Ohio. i'd met my client the day before the audit (not ideal!), and even worse, the client had been in prior contact with the auditor and told her things he had never told me. The auditor was really terrific; she explained her thought processes, described the receipts that were useful to prove expenses, and generally treated me gently. (I have to say I was thrilled, however, when the client found someone else to do his representation!)
To learn more, I went through an intensive 3-year program sponsored by the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) called the National Tax Practice Institute (NTPI). After the 3-year course ended, I was awarded "Fellow" status, which is a huge achievement.
At the end of 2011, I struck out on my own, and restricted my practice to the returns I know best: Clergy. I do a lot of free consultations with Clergy, Treasurers, and Payroll Companies---my goal is for every W-2 to be correct, and for every Clergy person to be ready for tax time.