Do you want to be called a tax expert? Is it your goal to represent taxpayers before the IRS? Do you desire to be respected as a professional? If so, you should work towards becoming an enrolled agent or EA.
Enrolled agents are specialists who represent the cream of the crop when it comes to taxation. They are the only federally recognized tax practitioners who can represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service.
EAs and CPAs can help taxpayers facing various tax problems:
- Tax evasion
- Tax fraud
- Tax debt
- Failure to file/pay tax penalties
- IRS audit
- Tax liens
- Tax levies
- Unfiled tax returns
- Collection issues
There are only less than 50,000 practicing EAs in the United States, according to the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).
The relatively small number of practicing enrolled agents in the US can be attributed to the expertise necessary to become one, as well as the stringent requirements for maintaining the license.
While it isn’t easy to become an enrolled agent, the rewards are more than worth it, so to speak. Enrolled agents are highly in demand. They are needed by law and accounting firms. These professionals can also find employment in banks and investment firms. Some pros also choose to put up their own private practice.
How to Become an Enrolled Agent
Unlike other professional designations, there is no educational requirement for a person wanting to become an enrolled agent.
However, you must prove your knowledge on tax-related matters by either passing the EA exam or working with the IRS for at least five years.
The EA exam is also called the Special Enrollment Exam. It consists of three parts, with each one testing your knowledge of taxation.
The first part concerns individual taxpayers, covering sections on income and assets, deduction and credits, taxpayer information, taxation and advice, and returns for individuals.
The second part focuses on business entities with sections on businesses, specialized returns and taxpayers, and business financial information. It is widely considered by EAs as the toughest section in the exam.
The third part focuses on representation, practice, and procedure.
Aside from passing the test, you will be subjected to a thorough investigation conducted by the IRS.
If you successfully passed the exam, you will be federally recognized as an enrolled agent. However, you will need to do the following to maintain your certification:
- Renew your Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) annually.
- Renew your status as an EA every three years
- Undergo 72 hours of continuing education (CE) every three years. There’s a minimum requirement of 16 hours of CE per year, with at least two hours on ethics. The need to undergo at least two hours of ethics training annually is in line with the Department of Treasury’s Circular 230.
Joining Professional Organizations
There are numerous professional organizations of enrolled agents. The NAEA is perhaps the biggest and most prestigious of them.
The Washington, DC-based organization aims to promote the highest level of professionalism, skills, and knowledge among its members. It is also a staunch advocate of taxpayer rights.
Established in 1972 as an offshoot of the Chicago-based National Association of Enrolled Federal Tax Accountants, the NAEA has grown into a large organization with more than 11,000 members.
Those members are demanded to take 30 hours of CE every calendar year, or 14 hours more than the 16 hours set by the IRS. They are then required to report the number of hours of CE they’ve garnered in the past year for renewal of their membership in the upcoming year.
The NAEA lets its members earn missing CE hours in the next calendar year to make up for the less than 30 hours that they accumulated in the previous year.
NAEA Membership Benefits
While there are other professional groups of enrolled agents, the NAEA is widely considered to be the most prestigious in the country. Aside from completing annual continuing education that surpasses the requirements of the IRS, NAEA members are known to abide by a code of ethics. They also conduct themselves in a very professional manner.
Once you become an enrolled agent, you should aim to join the NAEA. Becoming a member of this organization opens the door to numerous professional benefits such as:
- Continuing education. Members of NAEA can participate in seminars, conferences, and conventions that can update their skills and knowledge, and set them up for success. Some of the more common CE topics include ethics, tax preparation, accounting, advanced IRS summons, among others.
- Participation in year-long events. NAEA conducts seminars, conventions, and meetings during the entire year. These events provide networking and educational opportunities to its members.
A key event in the NAEA calendar is the NAEA national conference. This is the only annual educational event in the country designed particularly for Circular 230 practitioners looking to focus on client representation before the IRS. The event is anchored by the National Tax Practice Institute.
- Enhanced reputation. NAEA works to spread the word about the benefits of hiring an enrolled agent. It taps both traditional media such as print and broadcast and social media to effectively increase the public’s knowledge about enrolled agents, and thereby enhance the potential value of EA to taxpayers. Simply put, the organization strives to make the taxpaying public more appreciative of the value of enrolled agents.
- Information sharing. The NAEA offers a tax knowledge base where members can look for answers to some of the more frequently asked questions of tax practitioners.
- Marketing tools and membership discounts. The organization offers discounts for office supplies and software that its members can use in their respective offices.
Participating in NAEA Courses
The NAEA, as well as its state affiliates, are known to host numerous continuing education (CE) courses. These courses are held all year-round and provide an opportunity for current EAs to hone their skills and keep themselves updated on the latest taxation issues.
Should you become an EA and eventually a member of the NAEA, you can browse the organization’s website, www.naea.org to find and apply for an organization-sanctioned course.
The website features the “Continuing Education” section where you and other EAs associated with the group can learn more about the requirements for continuing education credits.
There’s also the “Calendar” section on the website where NAEA events for the entire year are posted. The events range from quarterly meetings, annual conventions, and seminars. Attending these events not only provide enrolled agents with the opportunity to earn CE credits, but also get some relaxation in a world-class resort.
For 2017, some of the cities where NAEA courses are scheduled to be held are Orlando, Las Vegas, Denver, and Reno.
Enrolled agents, thus, can improve their skills and knowledge, maintain their certification, and renew their NAEA membership while getting treated to a few days of leisure and vacation.
From a professional standpoint, NAEA courses also provide enrolled agents with the opportunity to network with some of the most dedicated tax professionals and learn from accomplished tax authorities in the country.
NAEA and its state affiliates, in fact, offer its courses even to non-members. There are seminars that are open to enrolled agents who are not members of the NAEA and its state affiliates. Signing up for an NAEA course may also benefit like complimentary membership, special member discounts, and access to special publications.
It is also possible to get discounts if a group of enrolled agents participates in an NAEA course. The NAEA and its state affiliates usually give discounts to groups of three or more colleagues who are joining a seminar, convention, or conference.
Enrolled agents can also attend one or two days of multiple-day seminars. The NAEA offers one-day-only rates for most of its courses, meaning that EAs don’t have to attend the entire course.
The easiest way to register for any NAEA course is through the Internet. The NAEA website, as well as those of NAEA’s state affiliates, usually have downloadable PDF registration forms that enrolled agents can fill out to signify their participation in a particular course.
How to Save in NAEA Courses Participation
Truth to be told, participation fees in NAEA courses and events aren’t cheap. The cost of participating in a continuing education course can run to hundreds of dollars. The cost may also be affected by other factors such as the location as well as the number of days of the event.
Yet enrolled agents can deduct the costs of their participation in NAEA courses in their next tax returns. After all, these are considered travel expenses which are defined by the IRS as common and accepted in a trade or business.
Enrolled agents can claim most of the expenses they incur while attending an NAEA organized event or conference. They can write off registration costs, lodging expenses, 50 percent of their meals, and incidental expenses.
Communication-related expenses during an NAEA convention, such as business calls and fax machine fees, may also be written off by enrolled agents. The same goes for other ordinary and necessary expenses related to business travel like dry cleaning and laundry as well as tips paid for any expenses during the convention.
Transportation expenses can also be written off by enrolled agents who participate in an NAEA course. These include airfare, bus fare, or taxi fare between the enrolled agent’s home and the location of the event.
Since most NAEA events are held in the United States, enrolled agents should have no problems claiming the expenses they incurred in participating in an NAEA continuing education course. However, it is worth mentioning that even conventions held outside the United States may be deducted as a legitimate travel expense.
These include countries such as Aruba, Bermuda, Bahamas, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Republic of Palau, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Honduras, among others.
Of course, enrolled agents know very well that there are also other factors to be considered in justifying the location of a convention. These include, among others, the residence of the participants, purpose, and activities of the convention, and locations of previous events.
Claiming travel expenses in the next tax return isn’t the only way for enrolled agents to save the next time they participate in an NAEA course. They can also seek the assistance of professional EA groups. There are numerous organizations of EAs – and not just the NAEA– that offer scholarship programs to both current and aspiring enrolled agents.
For example, the California Society of Enrolled Agents offers scholarships to California residents wishing to pursue accounting, finance, and other courses in preparation for the special enrollment preparation.
It also offers scholarships to current EAs in California who wish to take up courses like Tax Court in their desire to broaden their knowledge in the field of taxation.
The NAEA, meanwhile, has its own scholarship program funded by its members. This grant covers the registration expenses of educational programs offered at NAEA conferences.
Joining Online Courses
Enrolled agents may also join online courses or webinars offered by the NAEA. Online courses are a lot cheaper than seminars, conventions, and other continuing education classes offered by the organization.
Moreover, these courses are suited for enrolled agents who don’t have the time to attend seminars or meetings organized by the NAEA. Participants of online courses can also earn continuing education credits.
There is also a lot of variety in the topics discussed in online courses. Some may be aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skills of enrolled agents such as seminars on tax updates, while others may be focused on enabling EAs to improve their practice such as using social media to reach out to more potential customers.
There are a lot of career opportunities awaiting enrolled agents in the United States. Organizations particularly the NAEA are more than willing to help the professional growth of EAs. One way to achieve this is the offering of various NAEA courses such as seminars, conventions, and meetings. Enrolled agents should be pragmatic enough to grab the opportunity and participate in NAEA courses, whether held in or outside the US.