Enrolled Agent Requirements: EA Qualifications & Passing the EA Exam

Enrolled Agent Requirements: Meeting the EA Qualifications

You may already know about the benefits of becoming an Enrolled Agent (EA). For example, you may know that EAs have unlimited representation rights before the IRS. Or, that EAs have impressive flexibility over how, when, and where they work.

The benefits of earning the EA license are clear. However, some aspects of the designation may be a bit more confusing. such as the enrolled agent requirements.

In all honesty, the process of becoming an EA is simple, especially when compared to other accounting and tax-related certifications.

So, if you’re thinking about earning the EA designation to help advance your career, you should learn more about the enrolled agent requirements.

Enrolled Agent Requirements

Now, if you’ve spent any time researching or pursuing other professional accounting certifications, then you know one thing to be true: earning a professional certification involves meeting certain requirements.

And the EA designation is no exception. To become an enrolled agent, you must meet the enrolled agent requirements.

But, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the organization that grants the EA designation, has not established an extensively long list of requirements. Instead, the IRS has stuck to just 2 main enrolled agent requirements, so the process of earning the EA is fairly simple.

Primary EA Requirement

Again, for most professional accounting certifications, meeting the requirements can be tough. Typically, candidates must have a certain amount of education and/or experience to even qualify to take the exam.

But the EA designation is different once more because the only primary requirement for starting the EA process is having a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). And acquiring a PTIN is extremely straightforward and free.

Getting a PTIN Online

So, to get your PTIN, you must do the following:

  1. Create an account on the IRS website
  2. Fill out and submit the application. The application will ask for your:
    • Social Security number
    • Personal information (name, mailing address, date of birth)
    • Business information (name, mailing address, telephone number)
    • Previous year’s individual tax return (name, address, filing status)
    • Explanations for felony convictions (if any)
    • Explanations for problems with your U.S. individual or business tax obligations (if any)
    • If applicable, any U.S.-based professional certification information (CPA, attorney, enrolled agent, enrolled retirement plan agent, enrolled actuary, certified acceptance agent, or state license) including certification number, jurisdiction of insurance, and expiration date)

If you don’t have any convictions or discrepancies with your federal tax obligations, the IRS will grant you a PTIN immediately. Altogether, the online application process takes about 15 minutes.

Getting a PTIN Via Mail

Conversely, you can fill out Form W-12 and mail in your PTIN application. However, be aware that this process takes about 6 weeks.

So, applying online is more advantageous to your overall EA journey. You can move ahead much more quickly when choosing this method.

And while it’s relatively easy to get a PTIN, you’ll have to renew it each year. Normally, the renewal season starts in mid-October. The actual PTIN is good through December 31.

Secondary Enrolled Agent Requirements

Once you have a PTIN, you can move to the next step of the process: earning the EA designation. The IRS offers 2 paths to becoming an official EA:

  1. Pass the Special Enrollment Examination (SEE)
  2. Provide 5 years of relevant experience as an IRS employee

Clearly, if you don’t have the necessary IRS experience, then you’ll have to take the EA exam. I’ll cover the exam first, then touch on the experience option.

Passing the Enrolled Agent Exam

The SEE exam is also known as the EA exam, and to take it, you just need a PTIN. But to pass it, you need to learn the format and study the content.

The EA exam consists of 3 parts, which you can take in any order:

  1. Individuals
  2. Businesses
  3. Representation, Practices, and Procedures

Additionally, the most current EA syllabus reveals the topics that each of these parts covers.

EA Exam Syllabus 2020

Individuals Businesses Representation, Practices, and Procedures
1. Preliminary Work with Taxpayer Data – 17 questions 1. Business Entities – 28 questions 1. Practices and Procedures – 25 questions
2. Income and Assets – 21 questions 2. Business Financial Information – 39 questions 2. Representation before the IRS – 24 questions
3. Deductions and Credits – 21 questions 3. Specialized Returns and Taxpayers – 18 questions 3. Specific Types of Representation – 19 questions
4. Taxation and Advice – 14 questions 4. Completion of the Filing Process – 17 questions
5. Specialized Returns for Individuals – 12 questions

EA Exam Score and Timing

Each exam part includes 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs). However, you won’t be scored on all 100 MCQs. The IRS includes 15 experimental questions in each exam part. Therefore, you’ll be scored on the remaining 85 MCQs.

Also, you’ll have 3.5 hours to finish each exam part.

The thought of taking a 3-part exam can be intimidating to some people. Yet, the EA exam pass rate ranges from 61% to 86%. So, the exam should be quite passable if you’re experienced with tax or plan to practice tax.

EA Review Courses

As with any test, studying for the EA exam is important. Luckily, the EA industry offers resources specially designed to help EA candidates get ready for the exam.

These resources are EA review courses, and they will help you make the most of your study time and position you to pass the exam on your first try.

Before you buy an EA review course, you should research your options. Specifically, you should use my analysis of enrolled agent review courses to learn about the most popular courses on the market. Some recommended EA courses include: TaxMama, FastForward, Lambers, and Gleim.

You can choose the course that’s best for you, and then use my EA course discounts to save big on that course.

EA Exam Study Time

So, how long do you need to study for the EA exam? Truthfully, the answer depends on your level of experience and knowledge heading into the exam.

So, if you’re fairly new to the world of tax, you might spend about 4 months preparing for the exam. But if you’re familiar with the exam material, you’ll likely spend 4 to 7 weeks studying.

Registering with Prometric

Prometric administers the EA exam on behalf of the IRS. Therefore, when you’re ready to sit for the exam, you’ll schedule your first testing appointment at one of Prometric’s many testing centers.

However, the EA exam is only available to take during a defined testing window. Specifically, the testing window lasts from May to February of the following year.

To register with Prometric, you can visit http://www.prometric.com/irs. Or, if you prefer, you can call them at 1-800-306-3926.

Registering Online

If you do go the online route, you first have to create an account with Prometric. The process is easy:

  1. Go to https://www.prometric.com/test-takers/search/irs
  2. Under “Create an Account,” click “First Time Users Click Here”
  3. A new page will open, click “Create Account” again
  4. Enter a username, your email address, and a password

Then, visit your email inbox and open the email you will have received from Prometric. Click the confirmation link to activate your account. Finally, log into the Prometric website, enter your personal information, and click “Save and Continue” to finish your registration.

Locating a Testing Center

After registering with Prometric, you’ll be able to schedule your EA exam. As part of this process, you also need to choose a testing center.

Prometric’s website lists all the testing centers in your area. To check out the list, visit the site and click “Locate a Test Center.” From there, you’ll be able to select your country and state from the drop-down menus.

Then, you can choose which exam part you want to schedule. Next, you must enter your zip/postal code or address and city to search for nearby testing centers.

Checking Appointment Availability

After that, you can check the appointment availability of your preferred testing center. To do this, select a date on the calendar by clicking “Schedule an Appointment.”

Follow the prompts to schedule your appointment. You can also use the contact information to call the testing center and set up your appointment.

Scheduling Your Appointment

When you’re ready to schedule your appointment, you must again supply information about your preferred exam part, testing location, and appointment date.

At this point, you also have to pay the exam fee of $184.97 (per part). You can pay by credit card online or by electronic check over the phone.

Finally, you’ll receive an appointment confirmation number. As a best practice, write down or record the number. You’ll need it if you have to reschedule, cancel, or change your appointment in any way.

Using IRS Experience

If you’ve worked for the IRS before, you may be able to skip the exam and still earn your EA license.

To be clear, Circular 230 specifies that during your previous employment with the IRS, you “must have been regularly engaged in applying and interpreting the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and the regulations relating to income, estate, gift, employment, or excise taxes.”

Qualifying IRS Positions

Therefore, you need to assess your previous IRS experience and determine if you meet this definition. Generally, you’ll need to have spent at least 5 years in one of the following taxpayer-facing positions:

  • Appeals officer
  • Special agent
  • Revenue officer
  • Revenue agent
  • Tax specialist
  • Tax law specialist
  • Settlement officer

Additionally, 3 of the 5 qualifying years of IRS experience must have taken place within the last 5 years, prior to your separation from the IRS.

The IRS established these regulations to ensure that EA candidates with IRS experience possess the same knowledge as someone who has passed all 3 EA exam parts.

If your experience hasn’t given you this knowledge, then the IRS will restrict your enrollment to a specific area of representation.

Applying for Enrollment

So, the application process varies somewhat depending on whether you took the exam or experience path.

EA Exam Enrollment

If you take and pass the EA exam, you then need to apply for enrollment using Form 23. You also need to pay a $30 enrollment fee. Typically, you’ll hear back on your application in 60 days.

IRS Experience Enrollment

If you meet the IRS experience criteria, you also need to submit Form 23 and pay the $30 fee. But you have to take a few more steps. These include:

  • Providing information about your education, training, licenses, and work experience
  • Passing a background check

The background check ensures that you haven’t engaged in any conduct that would justify the suspension or disbarment of an attorney, CPA, or EA from practice before the IRS.

The IRS will conduct the background check on your behalf as soon as you submit Form 23.

Enrollment Review

The review process can take 3 months to complete. Therefore, the process of becoming enrolled via IRS experience will last at least that long, maybe longer.

However, all you must do during this time is wait, as opposed to studying for and passing the exam. For this reason, taking advantage of IRS experience if you can is still a worthwhile way to become an EA.

EA Continuing Education Requirements

After you’ve successfully secured the EA designation, you must meet a few other requirements to maintain your status. These requirements are known as the EA continuing education (CE) requirements. They involve:

Meeting EA CE Requirements

Now, these requirements can seem overwhelming. But CE requirements are common across professional certifications. So, don’t let them deter you from pursuing the EA license.

The requirements are not daunting. Furthermore, they only benefit you by helping you keep your tax knowledge and skills up to date.

As a side note, you typically have to pay to earn CE hours (think conferences, webinars, etc.). With that, you should factor the costs of EA CE into your overall EA budget.

Next Steps to Becoming an EA

Most people who decide to pursue the EA designation will need to take the EA exam. If you’re in such a position, then take the next step by learning more about how to become an enrolled agent.

Then, discover which EA review course is best for you using my comparison of the most popular EA courses.

You can also ask me any questions you may have by emailing me. I wish you the best with the EA!

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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