A couple of years ago the National Association of Enrolled Agents surveyed members about possible name changes for their professional designation. An apparent belief has surfaced that the word “agent” is not attractive to consumers of tax services. It implies an employment connection to the IRS. However, some disagreement about this matter exists among the Enrolled Agent association membership.
Perhaps the name is not the entire problem. A contributing factor is lack of awareness by the general public of the Enrolled Agent credential. The appellation is basically nondescript. Oddly, the term “CPA” only has character because people know what it means – that is, they think they know. In reality, few people are informed about what’s required to become a CPA. Even fewer are aware of Enrolled Agent requirements and how they are achieved.
The NAEA has been somewhat successful at pressing the IRS to specify within official statements the authority possessed by Enrolled Agents. Although this familiarizes people with the EA designation, most individuals remain uncertain of the qualifications and functions of Enrolled Agent tax professionals.
Interestingly, most individuals assume that CPAs are tax experts. This is probably because the CPAs with tax practices have marketed their professional certification. No thought is given to the extensive quantity of CPA preparation that isn’t connected to tax matters. These circumstances call for EAs to better convey the tax focus of Enrolled Agent training, which typically exceeds the quantity of tax information required for the CPA exam.
One of the presumed threats to EAs is the new credentialing of Registered Tax Return Preparers. The latter are perceived as having the better name. That advantage is leading many existing EAs to also obtain the RTRP designation. The RTRP test is an easy step for anyone who has already conquered the Enrolled Agent examination. EAs then use the recognition of tax certification with the RTRP title to explain the EA distinction. For example, unlike an RTRP, Enrolled Agents can negotiate payment plans, appeal IRS audit conclusions, represent taxpayers at collection due process hearings, obtain “currently not collectible” status, plus procure releases of levies and liens.
Meanwhile, the “RTRP” brand lacks meaning until it’s promoted by Registered Tax Return Preparers. So, tax pros with Enrolled Agent careers still face an identity problem. A name change for Enrolled Agents is only as effective as the marketing effort that follows. Nevertheless, a more descriptive name could fuel a public education process.
Enrolled Agents generally feel that they must communicate too much explanation about the credential. The NAEA membership survey didn’t result in a new name attaining a majority of votes. However, “Federally Licensed Tax Practitioner” and “Licensed Tax Professional” polled much higher than “Enrolled Agent.”
The most favored names from a national survey of average citizens were “Federally Licensed Taxpayer Representative”, “Licensed Tax Professional”, and “Federal Tax Specialist.” Just five percent of the general public liked “Enrolled Agent” and eighty-seven percent had never heard of that title. Instead of waiting for an NAEA recommendation, the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility could help the tax industry by changing the Enrolled Agent name to a title that includes the words “federally licensed” and “tax” without the term “agent.”
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