Most all professionals realize the importance of staying abreast of the most recent developments and changes that unfold within their fields. There is no profession where this understanding is more paramount than the tax profession, where amendments in current tax acts are introduced on a routine, and very often annual, basis. Because enrolled agents — the only tax professionals who earn the right to practice directly from the treasury department — are considered the nation’s pre-imminent tax specialists, continuing education in the field of taxation takes on even greater significance.
What is Continuing Professional Education (CPE) & why is it important?
CPE is generally defined as the method by which members of a profession maintain, improve and ultimately broaden their knowledge and skills and develop the personal qualities required in their professional lives. In short, it is a profession’s structured and ongoing commitment to competence.
CPE has become a standard requirement in most professions as members of the general public come to expect excellence in the tasks and roles performed the professionals they hire. Given the increasing centrality of taxes to people’s lives (everyone must pay them and IRS audits are on the rise), it is not surprising that most expect tax professionals to adhere to high standards of intellect. In fact, tax professionals like enrolled agents rank just below doctors and lawyers when it comes to these sorts of public expectations.
This is not such an easy feat, or at least not as easy as some would assume, in the tax industry. The knowledge required to operate effectively as a tax professional in public practice, commerce, education, the public sector or any other environment continues to expand and change at a feverish pace. The increase in the complexity of tax legislation has created the expectations that tax professionals must increase their knowledge and skills. In light of this trend, the tax professional’s commitment to learning must be long-term. Dan Miller, an enrolled agent in Gainesville, Florida has said that the profession’s commitment to tax continuing education “encourages self-directed growth and learning, where new skills and ethics are acquired that make us better able to serve tax payers. With all the changes that happen, EA CPE courses keep us clued into the latest and greatest so that we can handle any tax situation. It is a lifelong process.”
What are the benefits of CPE?
It goes without saying that CPE is an excellent vehicle by which tax professionals can enhance their knowledge and expertise in all matters tax related. But it can also have a number of tangible benefits for an enrolled agent’s practice and employer. EA CPE can:
- Increase levels of technical competence
- Extend the range of tax skills
- Develop new areas of expertise
- Promotes confidence
- Increases career options
- Enhance job satisfaction
- Increase client satisfaction
What are the specific CPE requirements of enrolled agents?
One of the chief mechanisms by which professional associations maintain the professional knowledge and skills of their members is to adopt specific rules around and a program of continuing professional education and development. Both the IRS and the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) have taken the lead when it comes to these objectives for enrolled agents. While neither organization requires specific menu of enrolled agent training courses, they do require:
- 72 hours of tax CPE every 3 years
- 16 CPE hours every year (minimum)
- 2 hours of ethics
An enrolled agent’s continuing education must also be comprised of Federal tax courses:
- Federal taxation, or
- Federal tax related matters, such as
- Tax preparation software
Other verifiable tax CPE may include the following activities:
- Conferences, seminars, workshops or similar structured discussion forums.
- Reading accredited articles (from entities like Accountancy SA, Business or TAXtalk)
- Research and lecture preparation (for example, lecture preparation or research for a publication or article