CE FAQs: Continuing Education Providers

Who can be a CE provider?

An IRS-approved CE provider must be:

I) An accredited educational institution;

II)Recognized for continuing education purposes by the licensing body of any state, territory, or possession of the United States, including a commonwealth, or the District of Columbia;

III) Approved by a qualifying organization (an IRS CE accrediting organization) as a provider of continuing education on subject matters designed for enrolled agents or enrolled retirement plan agents; or

IV) Any other professional organization, society, or business recognized by the IRS as a provider of continuing education on subject matters designed for enrolled agents or enrolled retirement plan agents.

All CE providers, regardless of status of CE provider, must obtain a continuing education provider number to offer IRS approved continuing education. You can apply for a provider number using our online system. There is an annual fee for each calendar year to obtain a continuing education provider number (currently $460).

It is an educational institution that has been accredited by a national or state educational accrediting body.

It is an individual or entity that is recognized for continuing education purposes by a licensing body of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, including a Commonwealth, or the District of Columbia. For example: The Oregon Board of Accountancy registers sponsors of approved CPE for certified public accountants licensed in Oregon, the Minimum Continuing Legal Education Department of the Oregon State Bar approves continuing education programs for Oregon attorneys on behalf of the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners approves sponsors of continuing education for Oregon’s tax return preparers.

It is an individual or entity that is recognized for continuing education purposes by a qualifying organization as a provider of continuing education on subject matters within section 10.6(f) of Circular 230. At this time, the only IRS approved accrediting organization is:

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, Inc.
National Registry of CPE Sponsors
Phone: 866-627-2286
Email: learningmarket@nasba.org

Yes. Under California law an approved curriculum provider for tax preparers is an organization approved by CTEC. See CAL. BUS. & PROF § 22251(c) (West 2011). A CE provider that identifies itself as an organization recognized by CTEC must complete the Form 8498, Continuing Education Provider Application and Request for Provider Number, providing a copy of the approval letter it received from CTEC. The Form 8498 can be completed and submitted using our online system.

The state or local chapter must receive their own provider/program number(s), even if they are using programs provided by their national organization since they will have responsibility for record-keeping and reporting PTIN level programs.

Provider Application Process

Submission requirements vary based on provider status. View this chart to determine what you must attach to your application.

The third-party vendor administering the continuing education program for the IRS charges each CE provider an annual fee (currently $460). There is no fee for adding additional programs during the same renewal year and the IRS is not currently charging an additional fee. 

Online status i, ii, and iii applicants applying for provider and program numbers generally will be issued numbers within 24 hours of a complete application.

Online status iv CE provider applicants generally should receive a response 21 days after a completed application is received. If you are a new CE provider and only want to offer an Annual Federal Tax Refresher course, you must apply between June 1 and December 31.

View a chart with the different approval times based on provider statuses.

Note: All paper applications will take 6-8 weeks to process.

You can advertise a program and say that it will be available on a specific date, but you cannot sell a program until you have an IRS approved program number.

Note: The Annual Federal Tax Refresher (AFTR) course is exempt from this requirement.

The current Principal Point of Contact (PPOC) has the ability to reassign the designated PPOC by clicking the “Reassign” button. After clicking the button, the Provider will be prompted to enter a new PPOC user's information. An email is sent to the new PPOC user with a temporary password, prompting them to create a CE Provider System account. However, if the PPOc has left before reassigning the new PPOC, they must call the IRS Continuing Education Help Line at 1-888-316-7581 between 8 a.m.- 6 p.m. ET for assistance in getting a new userid for log in.

You can update your contact information by accessing your online CE provider account and making changes through the Account Management feature by selecting Provider Account on the main menu.

The Principal Point of Contact (PPOC) can edit the public listing information by clicking on the "Public Listing" link on the left side of the home screen of their CE Provider account.

The Return Preparer Office has created an “IRS-Approved Continuing Education Provider” logo that you may use on your web site and in marketing materials. We also encourage you to use the logo on your continuing education completion certificates that you provide your attendees so they can easily see that you are IRS-approved. Follow the instructions received with the logo for appropriate use.

Fees

No. The annual fee (currently $460) is strictly a vendor fee for providing the electronic service. IRS does not receive any of the fee and does not have the authority to waive the fee.

All providers must register with the IRS to be an approved continuing education provider. Upon approval, you will be included in the Public Listing.

Beginning January 1, 2018, if you do not renew your IRS approved status by midnight, local time December 31, a late fee will be assessed according to the schedule below, in addition to the current renewal fee of $460.

  • January 1 through midnight, local time, January 31 - $100
  • February 1 through midnight, local time, February 28 (February 29 on leap years) - $150
  • March 1 through midnight, local time, December 31 - $200

Program/Course Guidance

Yes. Continuing education credit is only given for full contact hours, or multiple thereof. A contact hour is 50 minutes in length, excluding breaks and introductions. No half or partial hour increments are accepted.

Note: Annual Federal Tax Refresher (AFTR) courses must be six credit hours, excluding the 3-hour test.

An ethics program must address ethics or professional conduct in connection with tax return preparation. Review program description examples (PDF) as well as examples of the type of material an ethics program might present.

A qualified federal tax law update program must provide a practical working knowledge of the latest legislative tax law changes and associated IRS forms/instructions/publications. Review program description examples (PDF) as well as examples of the type of material a federal tax law update program might present.

Tax Law programs must cover federal tax law topics typically reported on Form 1040 returns, as well as other return types, covering basic to advanced topics. This category does not include: programs not directly related to federal taxation or federal tax related matters such as personal development, personal investments, office management, non-tax return preparation computer software or sales-oriented presentations for office equipment and other system applications.

Tax return preparers may earn up to five hours of federal tax continuing education credit for prep programs for each of Parts 1 and 2, and two credit hours of ethics for prep for Part 3. The maximum amount for SEE prep programs is 12 credit hours total. According to the Candidate Information Bulletin (PDF):

  1. Part 1 - Individuals of a SEE test preparation program is worth up to 5 credit hours, and is for unenrolled preparers only, enrolled agents do not receive credit. 
  2. Part 2 - Businesses is worth up to 5 credit hours, and is for unenrolled preparers only, enrolled agents do not receive credit. 
  3. Part 3 - Ethics is worth up to 2 credit hours, and is for unenrolled preparers only, enrolled agents do not receive credit for test preparation programs.

Yes, see program description examples (PDF).

The general rule: succinctly describe the major elements or contents of each program offered in a manner that provides sufficient information for the reviewer to make a determination that the program covers appropriate subject matter (federal tax, federal tax-related matters, federal tax law updates, qualified retirement plan matters, or ethics). Also include the manner in which the program will be delivered (e.g. speaker, panel discussion, lecture). If it is an ethics program, describe how the application of the subject matter will be verified (e.g. scenarios presented and discussed). Remember, document the 80/20 rule, if it applies.

All program information must be submitted in English for approval and review purposes.

An organization should only request a program number when they have the program material available that they will be providing to participants. Please do not request a program number until the program has been fully developed for your audience. You can advertise a program and say that it will be available on a specific date, but you cannot sell a program until you have an IRS approved program number. The Annual Tax Refresher (AFTR) course is exempt for this requirement.

Note: You can only get program numbers for Annual Federal Tax Refresher (AFTR) courses from March 1 through October 1 each year. Remember, AFTR courses cannot be offered until June 1.

Review this program number (PDF) breakdown showing the various components of the number.

Online group internet programs must ensure attendance during the entire program (e.g. utilizes polling questions throughout the program or a system that provides attendance reports, such as an IRS webinar) and are generally, but not always, live programs. Self-study, including archived or taped programs, requires a means for evaluating successful completion of a program (an examination). Further detail can be found in the CE Provider Standards document (Standard No. 5 (PDF)).

Generally, no. A program that covers state tax law issues or any non-federal tax content will not qualify for IRS continuing education credit unless at least 80% of the program material consists of federal tax laws and 20% state tax laws or other non-federal tax content. Programs approved by state licensing bodies must meet these criteria to qualify for IRS continuing education credit. The same would hold true if the one hour of state tax is part of a larger seminar – it must meet the “stand alone” test and consist of 80% federal tax comparison in that one hour and then the other 20% can be specific state tax law.

When offering an 8-hour program and 2 hours are ethics, 2 hours are federal tax law updates, and the remainder covers federal tax law, you will need to obtain 3 program numbers - one for each category. This will determine the exact category of credit the participants will receive. It also allows providers to mix and match and to offer topics separately.  

If you are offering a multi-day conference, for example a conference with cafeteria-style options of 25 different topics, you should obtain 25 separate program numbers - one for each topic. When adding programs, you must define them appropriately as federal tax, federal tax updates, or ethics.

A new program number is needed for new program material or when program content changes (other than inflationary adjustments).

Note: You can only get program numbers for Annual Filing Season Refresher (AFTR) courses from March 1 through October 1 each year. Remember, AFTR courses cannot be offered until June 1.

The online CE provider system will automatically generate separate program numbers for each delivery method you select. 

You don’t need a new program number for different dates or locations. You only need to obtain a new program number if the program is being offered by a different delivery method (e.g., one is in person, one is online, and one is self-study) or if the content of the program changes.  

If there are last minute changes to the program material/content, then you must obtain a new program number. Log into your CE Provider account and select the “Add a Program” button. You will be prompted through the process of adding the information. A new program number will be appended to your Approval Letter once approved and be sent to your secure email box.

We understand that this may occur and we will be monitoring this practice. As a general rule, preparers should not repeat a program with the same enrollment cycle or AFSP program year. However, we do understand that a preparer may have a reason to take a program again if they feel they need a refresher on the subject matter.

Stump the speaker programs, dinner sessions, and lunch and learn sessions are an excellent opportunity for tax professionals to learn from each other. To be eligible for IRS approved credit, the following requirements must be met:

  • The discussion leader must be qualified and experienced in presenting federal tax law topics.
  • The program description should describe the purpose of the program and what approach will be taken (i.e. open-ended, pre-determined, or pulled from jar type questions).
  • There must be a set agenda on federal tax law topics, and the discussion leader should have planned topics to start the discussion or available to use in the event that questions are not received from the audience.
  • The questions and issues discussed (including any tabled/unanswered/deferred questions) must be retained, either by detailed notes of the discussion, or a voice recording of the entire session. If the program is just an open-ended Q&A session or there is insufficient documentation for the program, it will likely not qualify.
  • Records must be retained for 4 years.

The rules vary by state and type of credential. If you are unsure if your programs qualify for more than EA and/or ERPA credit, it would be prudent to inform prospective students that they should check with their respective state licensing board or accrediting organization to determine if a program meets their requirements. You may also want to consider adding a statement to your certificates of completion such as: “Individuals with other professional credentials should check with their state licensing board or accrediting organization to determine if this program meets their continuing education requirements.”  

Yes. You can use the word count formula (PDF)

Note: Annual Federal Tax Refresher (AFTR) exam questions cannot be included in the word count because of the separate requirement for a comprehension test. Also, for self-study AFTR courses you can only have 18 review questions maximum included in the word count for AFTR.

Due to IRS security restrictions, IRS employees’ computers cannot access videos located on some sites, such as Vimeo.  If a program with an on-line video is selected for review by the IRS and it is not accessible by the reviewer, you will be notified to assist us in finding an alternative option for viewing.  Possible solutions may include placing a copy of the video on an alternative site (such as your own server) or providing the script in written format. 

Note: Online videos are part of your program material and must be retained for a period of 4 years, in accordance with Standard No. 13 (PDF).

Yes, but only for in-person programs and you must also have a power point or some additional program material to go along with the IRS publications.

Yes, identity theft and data security programs that meet CE program requirements focusing on enhancing tax professional awareness of protecting client data, including review of Publications 4557 and/or 4524 safeguards, can qualify for continuing education credit in the federal tax law category.

If you are an IRS-approved CE Provider, you may sell your program material to other organizations or individuals.  You should inform the buyer(s) they will be required to apply to become an IRS approved CE Provider and get their own program number(s) if they will be responsible for collecting fees and issuing Certificates of Completion in their name.

Yes. You must retain documentation (electronic or paper) for any purchased program for a minimum of four years to support your compliance with IRS CE Provider Standards should the program be selected for review.  Information to be retained includes copies of program materials, evidence that the program(s) were developed and reviewed by qualified persons, and a record of how CE credits were determined.  It is the buyer’s responsibility to ensure the purchased program material qualifies for IRS credit and supports the number of credit hours requested.

Providers already approved to provide CE to EAs and ERPAs

Yes. Accredited educational institutions must register and pay the annual fee (currently $460) for their programs to qualify for IRS CE credit.

Post-approval Provider Obligations

Recordkeeping and Upload

You should obtain the first and last name of the participant (as it appears on their PTIN card / PTIN welcome letter) and their preparer tax identification number (PTIN). You will also need the program number assigned by the IRS, the date the participant completed the program, and the number of credit hours granted. You should submit your participants’ information through your online CE provider account using this Excel template (XLSX).

It is a joint responsibility – the instructor gets instructor credit as long as he/she has not already earned his/her annual maximum amount of CE credit per Circular 230, Section 10.6. It is the instructor’s responsibility to discuss the need for instructor credit with the CE Provider so the CE Provider knows what to report, if required.  

If they are the only instructor for a program, they may only earn instructor hours (maximum of 6 credit hours annually).

If they instruct a portion of a program and also attend a portion as a student, they may earn both instructor credit and student credit, in certain situations. For example, if they instructed 1 hour of an 8 hour program, they would earn instructor credit for the portion they taught (1 hour of credit per contact hour plus actual preparation time not to exceed 2 credit hours per contact hour) and, if they attended the remaining 7 hours taught by another instructor(s) they would earn 7 student credit hours.  However, if they instruct the entire program, they can only receive instructor credit, no student credit, up to the maximum annual credit limit.

Yes. You must retain all program materials in either paper or electronic format (syllabus, program material, evaluation forms, master certificate of completion, and all records of who took programs and when) for a period of 4 years. See Standard No. 13 (PDF) for a complete list of records to be kept.

Yes, you should report information for everyone who provides you a PTIN, regardless of their designation. It is the responsibility of the participant to provide you their PTIN. See Standard No. 14 (PDF).

There are two methods:

  1. The organization’s Point of Contact, responsible for the provider’s online account in the IRS CE provider system, must log in to their account and select "Programs/Manual PTINS". Then select PTIN Manual Reporting listed under Program Options for the appropriate program you wish to input data. This option is a manual data entry process and providers will input information for each preparer by program delivered. This method is recommended for providers submitting 25 or less individual PTIN-level CE records at a time. Note: If you are reporting instructor hours, you must use the manual reporting method.
  2. You can input the individual PTIN holder data into the PTIN Upload Template on the right side of the main menu and upload the document by selecting PTIN Upload on the left side of the main menu. This method is recommended for providers submitting more than 25 individual PTIN-level CE records at one time, but can be used for any number of records.

During the first nine months of the year, you must report program completion information quarterly at a minimum (by March 31, June 30, and September 30). During the fourth quarter (October 1 –December 31), you must report program completion information within ten business days of delivery of each program.

AFTR course completion information can only be submitted with completion dates of June 1 through December 31.

Programs/courses must be completed by midnight local time of the student on December 31 to count for current calendar year credit.

Note: the system allows you to upload data more frequently than the required intervals.

Download the template here (XLSX). The template is also available within the CE system via your user account homepage. 

Participants must provide a PTIN if they wish to obtain IRS credit.

The IRS will validate the PTIN when you submit it. If it is incorrect, the record(s) will be returned to you. IRS will also validate the program number, date of program completion and number of CE credit hours.

Only if they have a PTIN and want the information to display in their online PTIN account in the future. All EAs must have PTINs. Not all ERPAs are required to obtain PTINs.

If you submit a PTIN record with incorrect information, you should delete the incorrect PTIN record by clicking the Remove button next to the appropriate PTIN record, under the specific program in your CE Provider account. Wait at least 24 hours after removing the incorrect record before submitting the corrected record.

Adding/Changing/Deleting Programs

Log into the CE Provider system. On the front page, select “Program/Manual PTINS” and then click the Add Program button. Your program numbers will appear on your most recent approval/renewal letter and Form 8498 as they are added to your account.  These documents can be found at the bottom of your CE Provider home screen under "CE Provider Applications."

New programs generally will be approved and a program number issued within 24 hours..

The following tips should assist providers in determining when to delete a program:

  1. If a program was created during the current calendar year (e.g. 2015) and you plan to sell or offer it for credit during the current calendar year and will have PTINs to report, do NOT delete the program.
     
  2. If you have been notified that you have been selected for a random program review, do not delete the program that was selected for review until you have been informed your review is officially closed.
     
  3. If the program was created in a prior year (e.g. 2013, 2014), you no longer intend to offer or sell the program moving forward, and you have reported ALL PTIN records, you may delete it from your current account.

    IMPORTANT TIP! If you have a PTIN to report in the current year that has a prior year completion date, the program MUST be in your CE provider account under the prior year program link found on the main screen of your account in order to successfully report the record.
     
  4. If you have never offered or sold the program and never plan to, then you can safely delete it from your “list of currently approved programs." This would include programs created as placeholders.

Certificates

Evaluations

Providers must provide participants a means of evaluation, but completion of the form by participants is voluntary. Evaluation forms must be retained for a period of four years. The feedback should be utilized to improve your program material or delivery. RPO may request this information while conducting a CE Provider Review. (see Standard No. 9 (PDF)).

Provider Renewal

Your organization must renew its continuing education provider status and pay the annual CE Provider fee each calendar year (currently $460). Renewals will be accepted between October and December for the next calendar year.

It depends. During the renewal process, all of your existing approved programs will be displayed in a table. You must indicate which programs you want to continue to offer in the next calendar year and whether you want to edit them or leave them unchanged. For example:

  1. If you want to continue to offer a prior year program exactly the way it is with no changes whatsoever, the program will retain its original program number
  2. If you want to edit an existing program, you may make changes to all fields – content, category, credit hours, audience type and delivery method. Selecting this option will generate a new program number. Remember, program content changes are defined as significant changes to the program material, not a simple update such as the current mileage rates, or new tax rates, etc. Selecting this option will generate a new program number.

The CE system WILL accept PTIN records with previous year program numbers because the date of completion will determine the year the preparer gets credit.

Note: You cannot renew an AFTR course. You must add a new AFTR course each year to ensure course content is current. 

Your CE provider account will be deactivated. You will no longer be authorized to offer IRS CE programs. You may neither market yourself as an IRS Approved CE Provider nor use the IRS approved continuing education provider logo. Upon deactivation, your CE provider contact information will be removed from the IRS CE Provider Public Listing.

Renew your status by logging into your existing CE Provider online account between October 1 and December 31 and selecting “Renew Now” from the Main Menu. You must also pay the annual CE Provider fee (currently $460.00). PLEASE DO NOT create a new application by selecting the "Apply Now" button on the login page.

Your CE provider number will remain the same from year to year as you renew your status. Programs numbers may change depending on how you choose to treat programs during the renewal process. See FAQ 2 above.

If you choose not to offer an existing program in the upcoming year, you must report any associated program completion information within ten business days of delivery of each program October 1 through December 31.

Yes, the program must be in the current year account in the CE Provider system in order to report PTIN data.