This page is dedicated to professionals who would like to enhance their career with an Enrolled Agent designation.
The first 5 steps are important decisions to make before the application process. Step 6-10 shows exactly what you need to do from registration, planning, studying, passing the exam to getting the license.
How to Become an Enrolled Agent
The first step is NOT about filling out application forms and paying the fees.
The first step is to make sure you understand what you are getting into, and whether this designation has tangible benefits to your career.
1. Understand what Enrolled Agent is All About
An enrolled agent is an expert in tax preparation. Together with CPAs and attorneys, Enrolled Agents have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS for audits, collections and appeals.
“Enrolled” means to be licensed to practice by the federal government, and “agent” means a person authorized to appear in the place of the taxpayer at the IRS.
- National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA)’s definition of EA
- Interesting facts on Enrolled Agents
2. Identify Benefits of Becoming an Enrolled Agent
In order to convince (yourself and family) why you need to take the time, money and effort on the EA exam and licensing process, you have to understand the benefits of becoming an Enrolled Agent.
The reason could be to set yourself apart from regular tax professionals, gain clients’ trust with a qualification with special privileges from the IRS, and differentiate yourself from attorneys and CPAs as the specialist in tax.
3. Compare EA Designation to Other Qualifications
Before embarking on your EA journey, it is worth spending the time to analyze the pros and cons of getting an EA, versus other related qualifications. Pick one that fits your interest and long term career path.
- Enrolled agent or CPA: What’s your choice?
- How hard is the EA exam vs CPA and CMA?
- Forbes: EA deserves more respect
4. Perform a Benefit-Cost Analysis
There will be costs associated with getting and maintaining the Enrollment Agent status. Does the cost, including exam fees and ongoing fees (e.g. CPE) justify the benefits of being an EA?
How about the opportunity cost of spending a lot of time and effort in the EA exam – would this be too much of a sacrifice as your juggle your role as a professional, spouse and / or parent?
5. Decide on Which Path to Take
Once you make up your mind to go for the EA, there are two tracks to get there:
- Track #1: Through an online exam
- Track #2: Through IRS experience
I am going to explain Track #1 in steps 6-10 below.
(For former IRS employees who prefer Track #2, please click here)
6. Register for the SEE
The EA exam is technically called the Special Enrollment Exam, or SEE.
You do not need any prior educational or experience to get qualified for the SEE, but you’ll register for a PTIN that can be easily done online. Here are the steps:
- Go to www.irs.gov/ptin
- Create your online account
- Pay $50 PTIN application fee
- Receive your PTIN upon payment confirmation
It is easiest to register online, but you can choose to manually fill out Form W-12 and mail to the IRS. This method takes up to 6 weeks and therefore is not recommended.
Please note that the PTIN expires at the end of each year. The renewal process is the same as the registration, and yes, you’ll have to pay the $50 fee again.
7. Pick a Review Course and Start Studying
I suggest to start studying before scheduling the exam, because you’ll know for sure when you are ready.
There are a number of good review courses, with a relatively big price range based on the sophistication of their products.
I have my general recommendation on this page, but try to select based on your background, learning style and budget.
8. Locate the Closet Center and Schedule the Exam
About 3 weeks before you are expected to be done with the studying, schedule your preferred part of the exam. You don’t need to take the parts in sequential order.
a) Register at the Prometric
To pick a location, you have to register at the Prometric — the administrator of the EA exam. Here are the steps:
1. Go to www.prometric.com/irs
2. Click “Schedule my test” button in the “I want to…” box
3. A login box appears. For first-timer, click “Create Account” to set up your user ID and password.
4. Go to your email box, click on the confirmation link, and activate your account.
5. Log in to fill in your personal details. You should have your PTIN ready.
6. Click “Save and Continue” to complete the registration.
You can also choose to fax or mail in the application, but you can only register and schedule the same day using the online method.
b) Locate a Center
Go back to the Prometric IRS page and click “Locate a Test Center” button in the “I want to…” box.
You can search by entering the keyword of your preferred location.
c) Schedule the Test
Once registered, you have to take the exam within 2 years. Here are the steps on how to schedule the exam:
- Go back to the “Schedule My Test” to pick the exam part you are taking, location and date.
- Pay the $109 test fee by credit card.
- Get the confirmation number when the scheduling completes. Please keep this number in case you need to reschedule or cancel your appointment.
For more details on the registration and scheduling, check out the EA exam candidate bulletin.
9. Apply for Enrollment
You have to apply for enrollment within one year of passing all three parts of the exam. You can do this by filling out Form 23.
If you go through the “exam” path, all you need is to submit this form and pay $30 online to the IRS. The process takes 60 days.
If you go through the “experience” path, you will need to submit extra information on your education, training, license and work experience. Please note that this former IRS employee review takes longer – around 3 months, and could be longer.
In both cases, there will be a background check.
If you know you have some problems in your history, take the initiative to alert IRS by listing the info in a disclosure statement with the application. Explain how the problem originated, was corrected – and why it won’t happen again.
Also, make sure you don’t have overdue tax charges before applying!
10. Comply with Ethical Standards and CPE Requirements
It feels great to be a freshly minted EA, but in order to keep the license active, don’t forget the continuing professional education (CPE) requirements.
Candidates must complete 72 hours of CPE (16 hours minimum per year) within 3-year enrollment period. At least 2 hours of ethics course is required each year.
Can I be More Helpful?
The process may sound complicated, but once you take the first step on how to become an EA, it’s completely doable. I am more than happy to help you along the way!
If you find this article helpful, please consider signing up to my mini-course which is completely free. You can learn about the mini-course here or sign up directly below: