Enrolled Agents (EAs) are federally-licensed tax practitioners who may represent taxpayers before the IRS when it comes to collections, audits and appeals. As authorized by the Department of Treasury’s Circular 230 regulations, EAs are granted unlimited practice rights to represent taxpayers before IRS and are authorized to advise, represent, and prepare tax returns for individuals, partnerships, corporations, estates, trusts, and any entities with tax-reporting requirements. Enrolled agents are the only federally-licensed tax practitioners who specialize in taxation and have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS. The enrolled agent profession dates back to 1884 when, after questionable claims had been presented for Civil War losses, Congress acted to regulate persons who represented citizens in their dealings with the U.S. Treasury Department. Enrolled agents’ expertise in the continually changing field of taxation enables them to effectively represent taxpayers at all administrative levels within the IRS.
The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 provides federally-authorized practitioners (those bound by the Department of Treasury’s Circular 230 regulations) with a limited client privilege. This privilege allows confidentiality between the taxpayer and the enrolled agent under certain conditions. The privilege applies to situations in which the taxpayer is being represented in cases involving audits and collection matters. It is not applicable to the preparation and filing of a tax return. This privilege does not apply to state tax matters, although a number of states have an accountant-client privilege.
In addition to the stringent testing and application process, the IRS requires enrolled agents to complete 72 hours of continuing education every three years in order to maintain their active enrolled agent license and practice rights. NAEA members are held to a higher standard than the IRS’ minimum 72 hour continuing education requirement. NAEA members must complete 30 hours of IRS-approved continuing education hours each year (which would lead to a total of 90 hours for each three-year EA enrollment cycle period). Because of the expertise necessary to become an enrolled agent and the requirements to maintain the license, there are only about 53,700 practicing enrolled agents.
Only enrolled agents are required to demonstrate to the IRS their competence in all areas of taxation, representation and ethics before they are awarded unlimited representation rights to represent taxpayers before IRS. 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.
Enrolled agents are required to abide by the provisions of the Department of Treasury’s Circular 230, which provides the regulations governing the practice of enrolled agents before the IRS. NAEA members are also bound by a Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct of the Association.
The principal concern of the National Association of Enrolled Agents and its members is honest, intelligent and ethical representation of the financial position of taxpayers before governmental agencies. Members of NAEA must fulfill continuing professional education requirements that exceed the IRS’ required minimum. In addition, NAEA members adhere to a stringent Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct of the Association, as well as the Treasury Department’s Circular 230 regulations. NAEA members belong to a strong network of experienced, well-trained tax professionals who effectively represent their clients while striving to make the tax code fair and reasonably enforced for America’s taxpayers.
You can easily locate an enrolled agent in your area by visiting the “Find a Tax Expert” website taxexperts.naea.org and searching by location or specialty. You might also want to check in your local yellow pages under “Tax Preparation,” and look for the phrase “Enrolled Agent,” “Enrolled to Represent Taxpayers before the IRS,” or the EA credential following the professional’s name.