Friday, October 5, 2012


Today’s buddy is Jason Dinesen, EA, of Dinesen Tax, Inc. in Indianola, Iowa, author of the DINESEN TAX TIMES.

Jason is a vocal defender of the EA designation, as I am a vocal defender of the previously unenrolled.  We recently debated the issue of exempting CPAs and attorneys from the RTRP exam, which he touches on below, at his blog and my TAX PROFESSIONAL blog (click here and here).  As with Joe Kristan, when Jason and I disagree we do so respectfully (unlike at least one fellow blogger whom I will not name).

I especially like the “disclaimer” he includes on his blog page –

Before contacting me with questions about how a blog post relates to your situation, please be aware that I cannot and do not give free tax advice to non-clients by e-mail or by phone.”

This statement, I expect, applies to all tax bloggers.  It certainly applies to me.

How did you become interested/involved in preparing tax returns?

This will be a really long answer!

I have always been a “numbers geek.” In 5th grade, my teacher told my parents that I would grow up to be a statistician. She was right (taxes are statistics of sorts) - but it took me awhile to figure it out for myself.

From 7th grade til about age 23 or 24, I wanted to be a sports play-by-play announcer. I went to college for communications (though I did minor in business management) and then went into radio as a news director. After a couple of years, I realized I should have taken the advice of my 5th grade teacher and gotten into numbers.

After reaching this realization, I still lingered in the radio world for a few more years before finally getting out at age 28. I went back to school for accounting, where I realized that taxes were my true love. For whatever reason, my mind “gets” the tax code and regulations.

I found employment at a third-party administrator of retirement plans, where I did all sorts of things relating to compliance issues of 401(k) and defined benefit plans. I eventually worked my way up to a position where I was in charge of all IRS filings related to plan terminations.

The TPA work was fascinating, but taxes were my true love. I prepared 3 tax returns, for family and friends, in 2009, and realized it was what I wanted to do with my life. I passed all 3 parts of the Special Enrollment Exam later in 2009 and got my enrolled agent designation.

By August 2011 I had built up enough clients to leave the TPA world and run my business full-time.

How were you educated/trained in preparing tax returns?

Various ways.

College coursework was where the light bulb switched on. Preparing for the EA exams helped a lot. Taking in-depth continuing education (not just settling for year-end updates). A lot of learning on the job -- but never at the expense of the client. Meaning, I have always been careful not to take on something I am not capable of handling. And I maintain an active list of contacts and professional friends that I can turn to when I have questions.

When and why did you decide to write a blog on tax issues? 

The Dinesen Tax Times started in 2009 as a printed newsletter for clients (all 3 of them!). Around that same time, I created a horrible, just awful, free Google website. In 2010, I started a blog, and last fall I got a “real” website and integrated the blog into the website.

I have always been a creative thinker, and the blog is a good outlet for me. Long-time readers of my blog know that my blog can be a strange place, where I often mix in baseball references, references to my family and pets, etc. in my posts about taxes. I use a lot of personal anecdotes, and I use a lot of parenthetical references and as you can tell from my responses to this questionnaire, I tend to take a lot of side roads on the way to reaching my ultimate point.

How has blogging helped your business?

I’ve gotten a few clients from having a web presence, but the biggest way blogging has helped my business is with the connections I have made with other professionals. It’s impossible to place a value on those connections.

What do you consider the “best tax advice” you can give anyone?

Contrary to what H&R Block and TurboTax want you to believe, it’s not all about getting a massive refund. Contrary to what H&R Block and TurboTax want you to believe, there are no tax miracles. Your preparer can’t magically conjure up extra deductions or credits to get you a bigger refund. (Well, I guess they CAN, but good luck to you and the preparer when the scheme blows up, which it inevitably will.)

Do you think the regulation of tax return preparers is a good thing?

Yes and no. As you know, I am highly skeptical of the whole RTRP thing. I do think there needs to be oversight, though. The Jason Dinesen proposal is: monitor people’s PTINs. Because we all have to have PTINs now, the IRS has a mechanism to track who is preparing tax returns. If a preparer is incompetent or prepares fraudulent tax returns, the IRS can revoke the preparer’s PTIN. That’s how I would handle preparer regulation.

Do you think CPAs and attorneys should be exempt from testing and required CPEs in taxation?

Yes, from testing. CPAs and attorneys already have to pass difficult and comprehensive exams. Granted, those exams aren’t tax-related. But it’s insulting to tell them they need to take a basic, open-book exam RTRP exam just so they can prepare tax returns.

However, I do think CPAs and attorneys should be required to demonstrate taxation CPE if they want to prepare tax returns.

Do you think experienced tax preparers should be exempt from the initial RTRP competency test under “grandfathering”?

Yes, I am open to that as long as there can be clear and consistent standards put in place.

How would you reform/rewrite the Tax Code?

Good question. I don’t think we’ll ever see true tax simplification, like a flat tax or a nationwide sales tax. But we could have a tax system that includes a huge standard deduction and/or personal exemption amount that would make it so lower-income people wouldn’t even have to mess with filing a tax return. That’s how it was back in 1913 when the income tax first came about. The personal exemption amount was equal to nearly $68,000 in modern-day dollars, so the vast majority of Americans weren’t even impacted by taxes. Of course, this would mean eliminating things like the earned income credit and such, which probably wouldn’t go over well.

What is your favorite Broadway musical – and why?

I’ve never seen a Broadway musical. I did see a performance of “On Golden Pond” at the somewhat-famous Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, North Carolina one time, if that counts for anything!

On GOLDEN POND really doesn’t count.  As an accountant Jason should at least try to catch a production of THE PRODUCERS (re: Leo Bloom).


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