What Does an Enrolled Agent Do, and How Are They Different from Tax Attorneys and CPAs?

What Does an Enrolled Agent Do Tax relief helpers

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Taxes can be confusing at the best of times. But if you have complex tax returns, tax debt, or other tax resolution needs, that confusion can quickly become stressful and overwhelming. 

In these cases, it’s best to turn to professionals for help – whether that’s helping to file your tax returns, liaising with the IRS on your behalf, negotiating a settlement agreement for tax debt, or assisting with any other tax-related matter. 

But which tax professional do you need for each of these different tasks?

From EAs to CPAs to tax attorneys, there are different types of tax professionals – all with different specialisms, and understanding which professional you need can often be just as confusing as navigating the rest of your tax process. 

Your easiest option is to turn to a company like Tax Relief Helpers. We are a team of tax experts that spans enrolled agents (EAs), certified public accountants (CPAs), and licensed tax attorneys. 

This means that we’re able to assign the best person, or people, for your individual case, without you having to worry about whether you’ve gone to the right professional. If you have tax debt or other tax concerns that you need help with, give us a call today and find out how our team can help you. 

However, if you’re just looking for a better understanding of the different types of tax professionals available, we’ve put this article together to help you. Find out what an enrolled agent does, the differences between enrolled agents vs tax attorneys or CPAs, and more. 

What is an enrolled agent (EA)?

In the simplest of terms, an enrolled agent has both the knowledge and the license to help taxpayers handle every type of IRS tax matter, from the most basic to the most complex. 

An EA is a tax specialist who has been licensed by the federal government to represent taxpayers before the IRS. The enrolled agent license is the highest credential the IRS issues.

Enrolled agents have something known as “unlimited practice rights”. This means that they are unrestricted in terms of which taxpayers they can represent and which types of tax matters they can handle. 

Contrary to common misconception, EAs are not employees of the IRS. But to become an EA it is necessary to either pass a three-part examination or have a minimum of five years’ prior experience as an IRS employee, so their knowledge is essentially comparable to that of IRS employees. 

They must also pass rigorous background checks and adhere to strict ethical standards, complete minimum levels of continuing education every year, and renew their status as an EA every three years. 

This is what makes EAs the ultimate reliable tax experts. 

Enrolled agents are also the only tax professionals who do not require a state license. Instead, they have a federal license, which means – unlike all other tax professionals – that they can represent a taxpayer in any state. 

All in all, if you need any kind of help or advice with your taxes, it’s fair to say that you’re in safe hands with an enrolled agent.  

What’s the difference between an enrolled agent vs a tax attorney or a CPA?

EAs, tax attorneys, and CPAs are all skilled and authorized tax professionals who are allowed to act on behalf of taxpayers before the IRS. All three are also granted what’s known as “unlimited practice rights”. 

So what’s the difference between them all?

The main difference is that EAs are always 100% focused on taxation – they are “pure tax specialists”, focused solely on the full range of tax and tax compliance issues. Whereas CPAs and attorneys typically offer a broader range of services and expertise, and don’t necessarily specialize in taxes. 

Enrolled agents are experts in all aspects of tax. 

EAs are the only federally licensed tax practitioners who specialize 100% in taxation and have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS, and in any state. They are required to prove their proficiency in every aspect of taxes, including ethics and representation, and must commit to minimum continuing education each year to ensure they are up-to-date on the constantly changing tax code. EAs will therefore always have a comprehensive and complete knowledge of everything relating to the IRS and taxation. 

CPAs are experts in accounting. 

CPA services span the entire financial and accounting profession. Taxation is just one of many specialties of a CPA, but not all CPAs specialize in taxation, and some specialize in more than one area. CPAs are also licensed by states, not the federal government. 

Tax attorneys are experts in tax law. 

Attorneys are trained in law and will have passed a state bar examination, meaning they can represent and help clients in a court of law within their licensed state. A tax attorney will additionally have trained in tax laws and procedures, however, not all tax attorneys deal with the IRS, so this should not be assumed.

Generally speaking, if you have problems with the IRS and need complex tax advice or support, an enrolled agent is the best person to help you. If your tax issues involve legal or criminal concerns you will need a tax attorney, either in addition to an EA, or instead.

What does an enrolled agent do?

As EAs have unlimited practice rights, they can help anyone – individuals, businesses, corporations, estates, trusts, partnerships, or any other entity – with anything at all related to the IRS, except legal representation in court.

What exactly does an enrolled agent do? Among other things, EAs can:

  • Help with tax planning.
  • Give tax advice, and help you to understand complex tax rules.
  • Prepare, sign, and file your tax returns.
  • Represent you before the IRS and negotiate on your behalf in relation to audits and investigations, collections, payments, or tax appeals, including such matters as penalty abatements, debt relief, tax liens and levies, and tax evasion or fraud.
  • Assist with any other tax matter.

Enrolled agents are trained to deal with complex tax problems and know the IRS taxation system inside and out. They can therefore help with all the most complex tax issues and find a range of solutions and resolutions to different tax problems. 

Examples of things an EA can help you negotiate with the IRS: 

When you’ll need an enrolled agent vs a tax attorney or CPA

Enrolled agents, CPAs, and tax attorneys are all licensed to represent you in front of the IRS regarding any tax matter. 

This means that, in theory, any of these tax professionals could e.g. file your tax return, negotiate a settlement agreement for back taxes, or fight fines and penalties. However, you wouldn’t normally instruct a tax attorney if you only need a simple tax return filed, and you wouldn’t instruct a CPA if you are being audited by the IRS and need complex tax resolution support.

Each of these tax experts has a realm of expertise that makes them better suited to specific circumstances…

If you’re in a difficult tax situation that may be headed to court, you’ll need a tax attorney, as these are the only tax professionals that can represent you in a court of law. 

CPAs are best suited if you only need a basic tax return filing as part of a greater overall financial and accounting service, including e.g. budgeting, financial planning, or accounting guidance. 

If you have any other purely tax-related needs, enrolled agents are usually the best person for the job. E.g. if you have a more complex tax return or need to file in more than one state, if you have tax debt that you need help resolving or negotiating, or if you have a dispute with the IRS, an EA has the comprehensive knowledge and experience needed to both handle your case and find the best possible outcome. 
In more complex tax resolution cases, a combination of different tax professionals is often needed. For example, at Tax Relief Helpers we have all three types of tax professional within our team. On our client’s tax resolution cases, CPAs only deal with the tax prep and tax planning, while the EAs and attorneys handle the actual resolution of the case. Depending on the complexity of a case, all three may work together.

How many enrolled agents are there and how can I find one?

As of September 2023, there are just under 65,000 enrolled agents in the USA

This is compared to approximately 673,000 CPAs, and approximately 25,000 tax attorneys

You can find local tax experts by searching online or any local directories. The IRS provides a list of all enrolled agents, and NAEA (the National Association of Enrolled Agents) has a tax expert directory that encompasses all types of tax professional. 

If you are looking for a tax professional independently, be sure to check that they specialize in the issues you need them to handle. While EAs always specialize exclusively in taxation, bear in mind that CPAs and tax attorneys can specialize in different areas, and many don’t specialize in tax, or in all areas of tax resolution. 

However, if you need help with tax resolution, your best bet is to contact Tax Relief Helpers. We have EAs, CPAs, and tax attorneys all under the one roof, so are able to combine all of their specialized knowledge and skills to achieve the best possible outcome to your situation.

All the best tax resolution experts at Tax Relief Helpers

If you’re trying to find out the difference between an enrolled agent vs a tax attorney, or to understand what an enrolled agent can do, you probably have tax debt or are facing problems with the IRS.

If this is the case, your best option is to take advantage of the service we offer here at Tax Relief Helpers, where we have an experienced team of tax experts ready to work on your case as needed

Our expert team of enrolled agents, CPAs, and tax attorneys have decades of combined experience in tackling all manner of tax situations, including the most difficult and complex, and we specialize in helping our clients resolve their tax problems, settle their debts, and start living their lives without the weight of tax debt hanging over them. 
Book your free, no-obligation consultation with one of our experts today, and we will review your case, identify the best person (or people) for your unique case, and get to work on relieving you of your tax woes.