A: Enrolled Agents are individuals licensed by the federal government to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. Enrollment dates back to 1884, when Congress acted to regulate persons who represented citizens in their dealings with the Treasury Department, after questionable claims had been presented for Civil War losses.
Q: What exactly do Enrolled Agents do?
A: Unlike lawyers or CPAs, Enrolled Agents specialize in taxation. Throughout the year they advise, represent and prepare returns for individuals, partnerships, corporations, estates, trusts and any entities with tax-reporting requirements. In California, for example, the more than 4,000 members of the California Society of Enrolled Agents prepare almost 2,000,000 tax returns each year. Enrolled Agents’ expertise in the constantly changing field of tax law enables them to be effective representatives when taxpayers are audited by the IRS.
Q: How do Enrolled Agents differ from other tax experts?
A: Only Enrolled Agents are required to demonstrate competence in matters of taxation before they may represent a taxpayer. Also, they are the only representatives for taxpayers who receive that right from the U. S. government. (CPAs and attorneys are licensed by the states.) An individual may become an Enrolled Agent in one of two ways: The primary way is to pass a difficult, two-day examination given annually by the IRS. The test covers taxation of individuals, corporations, partnerships, estates, trusts, procedures and ethics. The other way is to have been an employee of the Internal Revenue Service for five years, regularly applying and interpreting the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and regulations.
Q: Are there other requirements?
A: Over the years, an average of one-third of individuals taking the examination have passed, allowing them to apply for enrollment and subject themselves to a background investigation. In addition to the stringent testing and application process, Enrolled Agents are required to earn 72 hours of continuing professional education, reported every three years, to maintain their status. Because of the difficulty in becoming enrolled and maintaining that enrollment, there are fewer than 34,000 Enrolled Agents in the United States. In contrast, there are about 375,000 certified public accountants (CPAs) nationwide.