What is an Enrolled Agent?
An Enrolled Agent is a tax expert and it is the highest credential in the tax industry, awarded by the IRS.
An Enrolled Agent (EA) has earned the privilege of representing taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by either:
- Passing a three-part comprehensive IRS test covering individual and business tax returns, OR
- Through experience as a former IRS Employee
Fast facts about Enrolled Agents
- Enrolled Agents, like attorneys and certified public accountants (CPAs), have unlimited practice rights, meaning they are unrestricted as to which taxpayers they can represent, what types of tax matters they can handle, and which IRS offices they can represent clients before.
- The Enrolled Agent credential is nationally recognized, as they are federally authorized by the IRS to practice in any state. Interestingly, CPAs have to be licensed separately in each state they wish to practice in.
And what’s even more interesting…
- You don’t need a college degree to become an Enrolled Agent.
- You don’t need to know accounting or high level math to become an Enrolled Agent.
- There is a shortage of Enrolled Agents, who can handle more complicated tax returns and represent clients before the IRS.
- Your earning potential is much greater when you become an Enrolled Agent because you have a higher level of tax knowledge and are an unrestricted, meaning you are able to do more things for your clients. You can easily work year-round assisting clients with tax preparation and many other different tax issues.
- You can pass the three-part Enrolled Agent Exam, also called the Special Enrollment Exam (SEE), one part at a time, and you have two years from passing the first exam to pass all three parts! This makes studying and passing the SEE exam much more manageable!
Not sure where to start?
If you’re interested in becoming a Tax Preparer or already are one, it makes great sense to work towards becoming an Enrolled Agent. Currently the IRS has a voluntary program for tax preparers, the Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP). Without completing this bare minimum program or having any other recognized credentials, you lose very basic representation rights for clients whose returns you prepared.
If you can’t talk to the IRS on your clients behalf, you may lose them! And with IRS examinations on the rise, this is becoming increasingly important. The AFSP also includes a yearly 6-hour course and test, plus 15 hours of annual CE. If you are going to do the AFSP, why not go one step further and work towards the highest credential the IRS awards? — and increase your knowledge and credibility at the same time!
Continuing your education enables you to prepare more complicated tax returns, which in turn allows you to charge more and grow your business! In addition, you can also become specialized in certain areas and be known as “the expert.” Think about what your regular family doctor makes for a living and how many patients he/she might see in a day. Now think about what a heart surgeon makes for a living and how many patients he/she might see in a day. The heart surgeon makes a lot more money and sees far fewer patients on a daily basis. The more you know, the more you can charge and the more your business will grow!
Steps to becoming an Enrolled Agent
Step 1: Enroll in the Chartered Tax Professional CTP® certificate program
This online certificate program leading to the professional CTP® designation includes five courses totaling 168-hours of instruction. The courses teach you tax preparation from the very beginning and can be completed in just 18 months or less. The CTP® curriculum includes most topics on the EA exam and CTP® graduates are well prepared to pass the EA Exam after completing a Surgent EA Exam Review, also available through The Income Tax School.
Already have some experience?
Experienced tax professionals can usually “test out” of the first course, the Comprehensive Tax Course, which is 48 hours of instruction. The cost to test out of the Comprehensive Tax Course is $100.
Not sure you’re ready for the CTP® certificate program?
You can start with the first course in the certificate programs, the Comprehensive Tax Course, and upgrade to the CTP® program at a later time. There are also two lower tiered Chartered Tax Certificate Programs you can start with, as well as 2-course bundles including the Comprehensive Tax Course. So as you can see, there are several options you can choose from that are stepping stones to becoming an Enrolled Agent. Sometimes you just need to get your feet wet and then you’re ready to jump right in!
- Learn about all three Chartered Tax Certificate Programs
- Learn about testing out of the Comprehensive Tax Course
Courses included in the CTP® program:
- Comprehensive Tax Course
- Advanced I Tax Course
- Advanced II Tax Course
- Small Business I Tax Course
- Small Business II Tax Course
- Annual CE requirement (beginning the year after you qualify as a CTP®):
- 15 Hours (9 hours federal tax law, 3 hours ethics, 3 hours federal tax law updates)
- Experience requirement:
- 300 Hours must be completed before final CTP® certificate is issued. After completing the first tax course, you’ll have the tax knowledge to prepare individual tax returns for almost all U.S. taxpayers and you can start working towards your experience requirement. Plus, you’ll start earning money!
- Learn more about requirements
- View our CTP Timeline Schedule
Step 2: Complete a Surgent EA review course
After you’ve gotten a few tax courses under your belt, you should consider registering for Part 1 of Surgent’s EA Review Course and you can work toward your EA status in tandem. This will put you on the fast track to becoming an Enrolled Agent!
The Income Tax School is now part of Surgent and their EA Review (formerly Exam Matrix EA Exam Review), is a leader in EA Exam preparation, which will help you prepare for the EA Exam (SEE exam).
- New EA Exam Review innovations – Intelligent Software
- Over 1,800 Multiple-Choice Questions – With Full Text Answers
- Up-to-Date IRS Publications – Built Right Into the Software
- Over 80% Pass Rate
- Simulated Exam Mode
- Pass or Refund Guarantee
Step 3 – Take the IRS SEE examination
Individuals wishing to become an IRS Enrolled Agent must take and pass the IRS Special Enrollment Examination (SEE). As mentioned above, you can take and one part at a time. You have two years from passing the first exam to pass all three parts of the exam. This makes studying and passing the SEE exam much more manageable! There are fives steps to the exam process:
- Create an Account with Prometric, if you don’t have one.
- Review the Candidate Information Bulletin – This bulletin will provide you with important information about the examination and the process for becoming an Enrolled Agent. Review the Candidate Information Bulletin
- Review Exam Content Outlines – Read the full detailed test specifications to become familiar with the content of each part of the examination.
- Prepare for your Exam – Please review the Candidate Information Bulletin for test content and scoring information, test center regulations and ID policies, registration and scheduling issues and contact information.
- Register and Schedule Your Exam – Prior to scheduling an examination appointment you must register for each part of the examination that you wish to take through Prometric, who administers the exam for the IRS. There is a $182.00 fee per part paid at the time of appointment scheduling. The test fee is non-refundable and non-transferable.
- Take your Exam which will be taken at a Prometric Testing Center.
Extension of the two-year carryover period – Updated July 9, 2020
Generally, candidates who pass a part of the SEE examination can carry over a passing score up to two years from the date they passed that part of the examination. To provide candidates flexibility in testing during this period of global emergency, we are extending the two-year period to three years. This applies to any examination parts that had not expired as of February 29, 2020 and any examination parts passed on June 1, 2020 and later. For example, assume a candidate passed Part 1 on November 15, 2019. Subsequently the candidate passed Part 2 on February 15, 2020. That candidate has until November 15, 2022 to pass the remaining part. Otherwise, the candidate loses credit for Part 1. The candidate has until February 15, 2023 to pass all other parts of the examination or will lose credit for Part 2.
In another example, assume a candidate passed Part 1 on June 1, 2020. Subsequently the candidate passed Part 2 on September 1, 2020. That candidate has until June 1, 2023 to pass the remaining part. Otherwise, the candidate loses credit for Part 1. The candidate has until September 1, 2023 to pass all other parts of the examination or will lose credit for Part 2.
Step 4 – Register with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent
- Successfully pass all three parts of the EA exam (SEE exam) within two years.
- Obtain or continue to maintain your Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) through the IRS.
- Apply for enrollment by completing the Pay.gov Form 23 Enrolled Agent application and pay $67.
- Pass a suitability check, which will include tax compliance to ensure that you have filed all necessary tax returns and there are no outstanding tax liabilities; and criminal background. Successful examination candidates usually have the process completed within 90 days of receipt of their application.
Former IRS Employees. If you have the required number of years of technical experience in the IRS (see section 10.4(b) of Circular 230), you may apply for enrollment and request SEE waiver
Send the following information to the IRS:
- A completed Form 23;
- Any information regarding formal education, training, licenses, and work experience (other than IRS work experience) that would impact on the approval of your application; and
- A check for $67.
See Form 23 PDF for additional details.
If you are a former IRS employee, the SEE waiver will not grant you unlimited enrollment unless your application establishes that your technical experience has provided you with special competence in tax matters sufficient to allow you to successfully pass the Special Enrollment Examination. The former IRS employee review adds substantially to the processing time. We estimate that the average time to process most applications for enrollment to be 3 months. However, some applications may take significantly longer.
Step 5 – Continue your education to maintain your EA credential
Individuals who obtain the Enrolled Agent status must adhere to ethical standards and complete 72 hours of continuing education (CE) courses every three years. A minimum of 16 hours must be earned per year, two of which must be on ethics. Enrolled agents must use an IRS approved CE provider.