Elevating the profession of taxpayer representation
Having taught more than 2,300 tax professionals in our tax resolution boot camps over the past 7 years, plus more than 20,000 tax professionals on our live webinars, we’ve been fortunate to interact with the brightest and best minds in the tax and accounting industries. In conversations with these practitioners, in comments left on course evaluations, and threads on Internet discussion boards, a recurring theme has long been clear:
“Great seminar, but an extra day would have made it better.”
“Your boot camp provided far more practical detail than another tax resolution boot camp I recently attended, but I wish there had been more time for Q&A.”
“The exercises were definitely helpful, but you should have dedicated an entire hour to the conversation.”
The inevitable difficulty in creating any training program, no matter what the subject matter, is that there is always more detail that could be covered…more examples that could be discussed…more time set aside for answering student questions.
Over the past 7 years, we have continuously improved our 16-hour tax resolution specialist training program to provide as much practical, actionable information as possible — with hands-on exercises — to equip attendees to handle 90% of the individual (IMF) tax debt cases that they’ll see in a typical year. In addition, we’ve hosted specialty workshops on additional topics, such as lien certificates, payroll tax issues, and more. But even then, there is always more that we could do.
Numerous attendees of other tax resolution boot camps have privately expressed frustration to me about those programs, also. The most common complaints I hear are:
- The program was far too rushed.
- They don’t provide enough detail to actually work cases.
- They’re only interested in selling their other products and services.
Even after completing all three levels of NAEA’s NTPI® program myself recently, I felt like even that was lacking quite a bit of practical application to actual case work in the field. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good program, and I’d encourage anybody to attend it. But it’s still missing quite a few important pieces, and it has some flaws in delivery. In particular, attendees at my Level 2 NTPI class openly expressed their frustration with how the breakout sessions are handled. Many of them were utterly lost during these tabletop discussions, and everybody wished we could have had significantly greater time to work on the exercises.
As I already mentioned, even our Fast Start Boot Camp program hasn’t been perfect, with the most common critical comments being:
- Trying to pack too much content into the allotted time.
- Not enough Q&A time.
- Having to skip over certain “rabbit holes” that everybody wishes we could delve into, just to stay on schedule.
On hour live, online webinars, the top two critical comments are:
- Should have been scheduled for more time.
- Wish there had been more time to discuss _______.
Time and time again, it all comes down to time.
This issue has all been on my mind for a while — over two years, in fact. My teaching colleague, Dan Henn, CPA, CTR™, and I have had extensive conversations about how to improve the curriculum. But, while I honestly believe that our Tax Resolution Fast Start Boot Camp is, hands down, the best introductory taxpayer representation training program available, it still misses the mark.
Perhaps gradually improving upon an existing model — the same model used by other training programs in the same industry — was the wrong approach.
Maybe what needed to be done was tear the whole thing down, and start over from scratch.
So we did.
Following my own advice to look outside your own industry, we looked at training programs in other industries, looking for best practices. From real estate to insurance to financial planning to MBA programs to figure skating training (that is not a typo), I looked at how training programs are structured. I spoke with instructional design experts, read peer-reviewed academic papers on the topic, conducted both formal and informal surveys of tax pros, and more.
Oh, and of course, trying to keep it all within the scope of the IRS and NASBA Group-Internet delivery method standards.
After all that reading, research, and surveying, four factors emerged as being paramount to any new program:
- The best training programs are comprehensive. The esoteric “rabbit holes” are embraced and explored, not ignored.
- The best training programs are practical. Students must leave the training being competent, of course, but also confident in that competency.
- There must be significant time built-in for Q&A and discussion. It’s just not optional.
- Students are best motivated when they’re working toward a specific end goal. A degree, a certification, even a social media “badge”.
That fourth one was eye-opening to me in particular. For years, I’ve never hesitated to express my disdain for the “credentialitis” that runs rampant in professional services industries, including our own. I’ve always felt that alphabet soup was silly, because the vast majority of professional certifications have zero public recognition. When I originally coined the CTR™ designation five or six years ago, I actually did so in jest, in order to poke fun at credentialitis. But, much to my own amusement, based on this recent research, I’m eating crow on that sentiment and have come around full circle on it.
“So let it be written, so let it be done.”
In starting over from scratch, in being open to new ideas and embracing best practices in other industries, the overall program structure for the new curriculum started to emerge.
In recent months, you have seen Dan and I testing several new things — different lengths of programs (1 hr, 2 hr, 4 hr, etc). We’ve tested breaking our 16-hour boot camp into 4-hour sessions spread across multiple days. We’ve tested different times of day, different days of week, including weekend deliveries. We’ve tested webinar replay technology, a couple different webinar platforms, and much more.
Based on all the research, and all the testing, here is what we know the program will look like:
- In designing the new curriculum, it will be designed to culminate in the award of an industry certification, as a Certified Taxpayer Representative™ (CTR™).
- It will be LONG. In other industries, it’s not uncommon for comprehensive training programs to be several hundred hours.
- Built in to those hundreds of hours, there is extensive discussion time, Q&A time, and review time. No CPA shall be left behind, but at the same time, those that want an accelerated track will have access to it.
- Courses will be broken down into manageable, 2-hour segments, with short hands-on exercises and Q&A time built in.
- Along the way, students will have the opportunity to earn an “interim” certification: Registered Taxpayer Representative™ (RTR™).
- Like other industry training programs, as well as the CPA license, competency will be assessed based on education, experience, and examination. Yes, there will be a test.
Defining the Curriculum
After creating a framework for the CTR™ program, then began the most difficult task: Creating a new curriculum from the ground up.
Over the past three months, we have been conducting a job task analysis to help us better understand what taxpayer representatives really need to know — which meant putting aside our own preconceived notions on the matter, knowing full well that my niched, boutique tax resolution experience skews my view on what one needs to know. I spent more time with IRS statistics than I normally do, to find where the workload is. I delved into nooks and crannies of the Internal Revenue Manual that I normally wouldn’t. Dan joined me in spending many hours, with some exhausting conversations, in establishing learning priorities, ideal course order, and more.
Like any good training program, this is a living curriculum. It will most certainly evolve over time.
As of right now, this is a 140-hour curriculum, spanning everything from the most basic definitions, through all phases of Collections and Examination representation case work at the federal level. We will cover, in gory detail, everything from appeals and lien certificates to the Financial Analysis Handbook and penalty abatements. The curriculum will provide exposure to other areas, as well, including foreign and expat tax issues, IRS CI, tax issues in bankruptcy, and representations matters of specific industries.
About the Capstone
The CTR™ Capstone is a live, hands-on practicum. During this full day event, practitioners will work through a full length case study, from client intake to final resolution. The first Capstone sessions will be scheduled in 2021.
Prior to receiving their CTR™ designation, tax pros will need to submit evidence to the board of the National Association of Certified Tax Professionals that they have completed the education component, have at least two years of experience in taxpayer representation, completed the capstone, and have successfully resolved at least 20 federal tax controversy cases.
About the Exam
The proctored exam will consist of multiple choice, short answer, and long essay answer questions
Earning Your CTR™ Credential
To summarize, in order to earn the CTR™ designation, you must:
- Already be a licensed EA, CPA, or attorney.
- Complete a specific 140-hour education curriculum.
- Participate in a live, hands-on capstone session.
- Demonstrate resolution of at least 20 taxpayer representation cases within the prior two years.
- Pass a written exam.
To maintain the CTR™ credential each year, you will need to:
- Maintain in good standing your NACTR membership, including paying relevant annual membership dues.
- Complete no less than 20 hours of continuing education in taxpayer representation-specific topics as approved by the NACTR board.
How to Get Started
Option 1: Start completing CTR™ as your schedule permits. Our live, 2-hour webinars are “self-contained” in terms of the exercises and Q&A time, plus qualify for IRS CE and NASBA CPE.
After completing the 140-hour coursework, you will then be able to register and attend the CTR™ Capstone. After that, you can register for the proctored exam (fee for which is $450), and your first year’s dues for NACTR membership will be $350.
Option 2: Become a Tax Resolution Academy® member, which provides access to all live webinars, plus the entire CTR™ curriculum on-demand. Plus, Academy members receive 50% discounts on live seminars and workshops, including the Captsone. The exam fee and annual NACTR membership dues are administered separately by NACTR, and are not waived. Academy membership incurs a monthly charge, and allows you to complete the curriculum at your own pace. In addition, Academy members receive access to Office Hours sessions, practice management and marketing materials, case work technical assistance, and much more.
Tax Resolution Academy® starts a new training cohort approximately every 6 months. New member registration will re-open in late February 2021. Click here to join.
The National Association of Certified Taxpayer Representatives (NACTR) is a Florida not-for-profit corporation established in 2019. We are currently working on the Form 1023 for tax exempt status at the federal level. NACTR sets standards for the CTR™ credential, administers the exam, and provides member services. Once operating at full capacity, NACTR won’t just be another professional trade organization like the others you may belong to. Yes, NACTR will offer the full range of services you expect from a trade organization, such as networking events and educational opportunities. But beyond that, NACTR aims to be a true partner in the growth of your practice, by producing cooperative marketing opportunities for you with messaging centered around the CTR™ credential (much like the CFP® Board does for their credential holders).
Additional details regarding NACTR membership will be announced in early 2021.
CTR™ Course Equivalencies For Previous Fast Start Boot Camp Attendees
If you’re previously attended a Fast Start Boot Camp presented by Tax Marketing HQ/Tax Resolution Academy®, you are eligible for “advanced placement” in the CTR™ program based on the following course equivalencies to the boot camp:
CTR-103: Mechanics of IRS Collections Case Work
CTR-111: IRS Collection Financial Standards for Individuals
CTR-112: Individual Financial Analysis
CTR-131: Currently Not Collectible Status
CTR-132: Individual Installment Agreements
CTR-133: Individual Offers in Compromise & RCP Calculations
CTR-161: Collections Due Process Appeals
CTR-162: Collection Appeals Process
Training programs presented by other companies are not eligible for credit towards the CTR™ credential.