When you tell people you’re an accountant, a bookkeeper, or a tax preparer, they nod knowingly. They have at least a general notion of what you spend your work day doing. Not so when you say you’re an Enrolled Agent. I’ve gotten more blank looks since I became an Enrolled Agent than I’ve ever gotten in my life. Here, in a nutshell, is who we are and what we do and how we can help you.
As the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) likes to put it, Enrolled Agents are “America’s tax experts.” Much of the following information has been gleaned from the NAEA website, since, in addition to being America’s tax experts, they are also experts at explaining simply and concisely what it is we do. So now you won’t have to give a blank look next time someone says, “I’m an Enrolled Agent.”
Enrolled Agents (EAs) are tax practitioners with technical expertise in the field of taxation. They’re authorized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to represent taxpayers before the IRS for audits, collections, and appeals. Since this is what most people greatly fear, we are, I must say, very popular with our clients. They tend to treat us as knights in shining armor. EAs also advise, represent, and prepare tax returns for clients.
Many Enrolled Agents specialize in tax resolution. An EA must pass a very tough test administered by the IRS that covers all aspects of the tax code. Applicants for the EA designation are also background-checked very thoroughly. And it doesn’t stop at certification. Enrolled Agents must complete a minimum of 72 hours of continuing education every three years. That’s 24 hours per year, at least.
Members of the NAEA, are held to an even higher standard. They must complete 30 hours per year. Because of the expertise necessary to become an enrolled agent and the requirements to maintain the license, there are only about 46,000 practicing enrolled agents. NAEA members are bound by a Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct.
According to the NAEA, the profession dates back to 1884 when, after questionable claims had been presented for Civil War losses, Congress acted to regulate those who represented citizens in their dealings with the Treasury Department. More recently, EAs were granted a limited practitioner-client privilege.
“Unlike attorneys and CPAs, who are state licensed and who may or may not choose to specialize in taxes, all enrolled agents specialize in taxation,” explains the NAEA. EAs have the advantage of being able to practice in any state. People who anticipate needing representation in more than one state often choose to go to an Enrolled Agent in the first place, so that the same tax pro can support them all the way through.
The first step to finding a tax professional to work with is to verify that the person is licensed. Next is to talk to the pro and make sure they answer your questions in a way that you understand, and that they’re not intimidating. The IRS is intimidating enough. If you’re not sure about the pro’s advice, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion.