After 125 years, enrolled agents are finally getting the respect they deserve as the nation’s leading tax professionals
Enrolled agents (EAs) are tax professionals licensed by the federal government to represent taxpayers before the IRS. The profession has ancient roots, dating as far back as 1880s. In response to an influx in questionable claims following the Civil War, Congress acted to regulate individuals representing citizens on issues of taxation by creating the position of enrolled agent.
The Ultimate Tax Professional
Since this time, the profession has evolved into a multi-faceted service for taxpaying individuals and entities. The duties executed by enrolled agents include:
- Preparing tax returns
- Assisting taxpayers with a range of issues pertaining to national, state and local tax laws
- Representing taxpayers in formal hearings before the IRS
- Providing resolution to tax disputes
Each year enrolled agents perform these and various other functions millions of times — for estates, trusts, partnerships, corporations and individuals. In recent years, as the IRS and Treasury moves to pass regulations designed to enhance and better govern the ongoing continuing education of tax professionals, enrolled agents are emerging from the shadows of some of the more recognizable tax specialists, like CPAs and tax attorneys. As one of the only groups schooled exclusively in the area of federal taxation, this group has seen its customer-base increase expotentially over the past 5 years, especially as the percentage of IRS audits increases.
Leaders of the Pack
There are numerous differences between enrolled agents and other tax professionals (like CPAs and tax attorneys) that quite simply place them in a league of their own. All EAs, for example, must demonstrate a high proficiency in tax matters before they are eligible to represent a taxpayer before the IRS. They also limit their expertise to issues of taxation, which ultimately benefits taxpayers. This kind of singular focus enables EAs to dedicate more time and energy toward learning more about taxation and how to use this knowledge and experience to help taxpayers. They also receive their authority from the federal government, not the state, and so the profession as a whole tends to be better regulated. This translates into greater accountability and better performance.
After passing a rigorous, two-day exam administered by the IRS, or having worked at the IRS for at least five years interpreting IRS codes and regulations – the requirements for becoming an enrolled agent – these tax professionals must complete 72 hour’s worth of continuing education tax courses every three years to maintain their status. These EA CPE requirements and tax cpe courses are designed to enhance their proficiency in federal tax matters, making EAs some of the most knowledgeable and well-honed professionals in the field.
Finding an enrolled agent
Enrolled agents may well be the best-kept secret in the tax industry, but not for long. Recent changes to IRS regulations governing the continuing education of tax professionals — not just enrolled agents — have increased the visibility and relevance of this once low-profile profession. To locate an enrolled agent, contact this group’s main association, the National Association of Enrolled Agents, in one of the following ways:
- Go to the group’s Web site and search its agent directory.
- Call the NAEA 24-hour referral service toll-free at (800) 424-4339.
- Write a request to the NAEA at:
National Association of Enrolled Agents
1120 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 460
Washington, DC 20036
Enrolled agents are also listed in the Yellow Pages.