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How to Become an Enrolled Agent: My Awesome Complete Guide!

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This page is dedicated to professionals who are looking for specific steps on how to become an Enrolled Agent in the quickest way possible.

The first 5 steps are important decisions to make before you begin the application process. Step 6-10 show exactly what you need to do from registration, planning, studying, passing the exam for you to become an Enrolled Agent within 6-12 months.

How to Become an Enrolled Agent in 10 Steps

First realize that the first step is NOT filling out application forms and paying the fees.

But rather, the first step is to make sure you understand all that’s involved and whether becoming an Enrolled Agent adds tangible benefits in 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.

2. Identify the Benefits of Becoming an Enrolled Agent

In order to convince yourself and your family as to why you need to take the time, money, and effort and put it toward the Enrolled Agent exam and licensing process, you have to understand the benefits of becoming an Enrolled Agent.

The main reasons to become an enrolled agent include setting yourself apart from regular tax professionals, gaining clients’ trust with a qualification that includes receiving special privileges from the IRS, and to differentiate yourself from attorneys and CPAs as a tax expert.

3. Compare the 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 interests and long term career path.

4. Perform a Cost-Benefit Analysis

There will be costs associated with receiving and maintaining the Enrollment Agent status. Do the costs, including exam and ongoing fees (i.e., Continuing Education or EA CE), exceed the benefits of being an EA? If your answer is no, then let’s keep going!

How about the opportunity cost of spending time and effort on the EA exam – would this be too much of a sacrifice as you juggle your role as a professional, spouse and/or parent?

5. Decide on Which Path to Take to Become an Enrolled Agent

Once you make up your mind to become an Enrolled Agent, there are two tracks to get there:

  • Track #1: Through an online exam (aka IRS Special Enrollment Examination or SEE)
  • 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 Enrolled Agent exam is technically called the Special Enrollment Examination or SEE.

You do not need any prior educational or work experience to get qualified for the SEE, but you’ll need to register for a PTIN and that can be easily done online. Here are the steps:

  1. Go to www.irs.gov/ptin
  2. Create your online account
  3. Pay $50 PTIN application fee
  4. Receive your PTIN upon payment confirmation

Online PTIN Considerations

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. I highly recommend going the online route because if you have to spend 6 weeks waiting for your PTIN, this could drastically cut into your overall EA exam progress.

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 an Enrolled Agent Course and Start Studying

I suggest to start studying before scheduling the exam because through studying, you’ll know for sure when you are ready to schedule your exam. Without a review course, your path to become an Enrolled Agent is made tougher. Additionally, IRS doesn’t provide its own Enrolled Agent study materials, so our we recommend finding a good review course.

There are a number of good review courses with a relatively big price range based on the sophistication of the product.

I have my Enrolled Agent course recommendation here. You may choose an Enrolled Agent course based on your background, learning style and budget.

8. Locate the Closet Center and Schedule the Exam

About 3 weeks before you are expect to be done with the studying, schedule your preferred part of the exam. You don’t need to take the parts in sequential order. And I’d just like to add that you shouldn’t study for them at the same time, although you can. But it is not recommended.

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

how to become an enrolled agent

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:

  1. Go back to the “Schedule My Test” to pick the exam part you are taking, location and date.
  2. Pay the $181.94 test fee by credit card.
  3. 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 just so you’re prepared, it could be longer.

Background Check

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, how it was corrected, and why it won’t happen again.

Additionally, make sure you don’t have overdue tax charges before applying!

10. Comply with Ethical Standards and CE Requirements

It feels great to be a freshly minted EA, but in order to keep the license active, don’t forget the continuing education (EA CE) requirements.

Candidates must complete 72 hours of CPE (16 hours minimum per year) within 3-year enrollment period. At least 2 hours of ethics are required each year.

How Else Can I Help?

The process on how to become an Enrolled Agent may sound complicated, but once you take the first step on how to become an EA, it’s completely doable. Please go back and click on the relevant link to proceed, or go to our Enrolled Agent blog for more info. Best of luck on your journey to becoming an Enrolled Agent!

  • Pranavi Kota says:

    Wow, this is a very useful information. I never heard of an EA

  • Renee says:

    Stephanie thanks for your review of the EA review courses. It helped me make my final decision.

  • Hans z says:

    Can you go based on cpa license instead of taking exam

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Hans,
      Active CPA license holders are authorized to do whatever the EAs are doing, but in reality most CPAs don’t because they are not properly trained in tax. So I guess the answer is yes, but you don’t see a lot of such cases. Regards, Stephanie

  • Christopher says:

    Hi Stephanie, thank you so much for compiling all this practical experience information. I have no background whatsoever in taxes or accounting, as I loosely work for a NPO and my background is in the humanities. However, I am *strongly* thinking of a backup career in tax prep but am afraid of mistakes and liabilities. Becoming an EA sounds really good for giving me proper knowledge and licensing. I’m just curious, is being an EA strictly a seasonal post? Or could I conceivably get a year-round part-time job at an accounting firm for example, or even, if I have an HR job at another corporation, cite my tax specialties as reason for a raise or promotion? Thank you.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Christopher,
      The work is by nature seasonal but it’s definitely not a all or nothing type of schedule. There are work related to advisory (all year round) and to represent clients for IRD queries which is likely also not right at the busy season. As you become better, there are also advisory beyond personal tax, e.g. on estate, corporations and other more interesting and complex jobs.

      Hope it helps! Stephanie

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