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OSU makes tax preparation less 'taxing'


Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State University's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources has been working diligently toward April for a number of months.

The division has sponsored its Farm and Business Tax Institutes since 1962, providing tax education every fall to assist preparers in staying abreast of the latest, often frequently changing laws and information relative to individual and business tax preparation.

"We've had a number of individuals attend for decades, and for good reason: The OSU tax schools have historically been one of the few places where preparers can learn from and interact with representatives from the Oklahoma Tax Commission, Internal Revenue Service and Oklahoma Employment Security Commission," said JC Hobbs, OSU agricultural economist and coordinator of the tax schools since 2003.

Hobbs said a particular strength of the schools is that participants can learn from a wide variety of tax specialists. Two schools are offered annually, a summer tax clinic and a fall tax institute.

"The fall sessions place a great deal of emphasis on helping preparers become knowledgeable about all the ins-and-outs they will need to prepare tax returns, specific to the next filing season," he said. "The summer clinics are an opportunity to focus on specific tax preparation challenges and discuss them more in-depth as a way to promote better awareness and understanding."

OSU agricultural economists D.B. Jeffery and Cecil Maynard started the original OSU Farm and Business Tax Institute with programs in Clinton and Stillwater to 75 tax preparers. The two became aware that in the early 1960s certified public accountants, attorneys and tax preparers seemed to be unaware of unique tax provisions that applied to agricultural producers, and so took steps to provide up-to-date education on an annual basis.

Over the years, the schools evolved into a professional continuing education program for tax practitioners, addressing a wide range of hot-topic tax issues.

"There was a need and we responded; many farm practitioners increasingly have come to rely on off-farm income, plus we've always listened to advice and requests from tax school participants and preparers about what they feel they need to know," said Mike Hardin, a former OSU Cooperative Extension tax specialist now in private practice but still a member of the instructor team.

Although official attendance figures for 2010 are not yet completed as programs are still underway, more than 1,950 tax preparers attended the division's 10 fall institutes and two summer clinics in 2009.

Most of the participants were from Oklahoma, but also attending were preparers from Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Florida and California.

"Out-of-state preparers who attend often are licensed to prepare taxes for Oklahoma residents and property owners, and so find the tax schools to be both useful and cost-effective in terms of getting ready for the filing season," Hobbs said. "Our cost for a unit of continuing professional education credit is among the lowest in the state."

Participants have indicated that they file approximately 250,000 federal non-farm income tax returns, as well as 57,750 federal farm returns.

"This is approximately 70 percent of the total farm returns filed in Oklahoma," Hobbs said. "That is a significant number, and it is likely to increase in the very near future."

New federal requirements will necessitate all paid preparers who sign returns to become registered with the IRS. The OSU tax schools are already gearing up to help these preparers earn their licenses and maintain their continuing education requirements.

"It's a brave new world, and yet, in many ways, similar to the challenges faced by D.B. Jeffery and Cecil Maynard years ago," Hardin said. "They were timely then in solving pressing issues and concerns, and we're carrying on the tradition."



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