Why are Enrolled Agents So Crabby?

The Tax Girl, Kelly Phillips Erb, asked on Twitter today: “I am kindly asking why it seems that EAs are so defensive. I have, over the years, received a disproportionate # of grumpy emails/comments from EAs telling me about testing, etc. I don’t get this from any other tax pros.”

I am an EA myself, and I see this same grumpiness. I get the sense that some (NOT all and not even most, but SOME) EAs resent CPAs and attorneys. In particular, there are pockets of the EA world that resent the fact that CPAs are regarded as the premiere “tax people.”

Who “Owns” the Tax World?

Some of the frustration is legitimate. For example, the AICPA saying that CPAs “own the tax preparation business” is utterly ridiculous and offensive to any non-CPA in the tax world. (Question: Did the AICPA really say this? I have seen other folks say the AICPA has said this, but haven’t seen an original source.)

But it’s equally ridiculous for EAs to claim the moral high ground about EA being a “better” tax designation. Designations are just designations. A designation means you passed a test (or several tests). Sure, the educational requirements differ, and we can go round and round and round and round and round and round (that’s 6 “rounds”) arguing about which test is harder. But in the end, it’s all about passing tests. That’s why I don’t worry too much about CPAs and attorneys being exempted from taking the RTRP exam (this seems to be another “crabby point” for some EAs).

EAs Left in the Dust?

EAs also have a very real and legitimate fear that we will get left in the dust once the new RTRP designation gets rolling. After all, RTRPs have the phrase “tax return preparer” in their designation, while EAs are saddled with a designation that includes the word “agent” (automatic code word for “Works for the IRS, flee for your lives!”). EAs need to be educating the public, and we need help from our national association — help that I feel has been absent in the past (though the association says public education is its #1 priority in the new “3-year plan”).

It’s All About Education

Personally, I use the lack of knowledge about EAs as a talking point. I know I have a built-in “conversation piece” whenever I meet someone new. There is a 99.9% chance (almost literally) that they will have no clue what an EA is. I have an opportunity to educate them and set a positive tone. That’s all I can do. Having anger or animosity toward CPAs, or RTRPs, or the world in general, won’t help the public know what an EA is.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“This blog post, along with comments that may follow, should not be considered tax advice. Before you make final tax or financial decisions, please secure a professional tax advisor to give you advice about your unique situation. To secure Jason as your accountant, please click on the ‘Services’ link at the top of the page.”


  1. says

    I’m not sure about the ethics and education requirements for attorneys, but AICPA ethics dictate that you need to be up to speed on any professional services you are offering. So, if you are primarily a tax CPA, then most of your hours will be tax related (and that is about 40 hours per year in Iowa).

    But test passing and continuing education aside, regardless of your designation, the game is all about knowing the tax law as well as you can and helping your clients apply that law to their situations in the best way possible. We will also tend to have preparers along a continuum, some focusing on high volume with simpler issues and situations and others focusing on lower volume, issue intensive projects.

    I’ve never heard from the AICPA that CPAs own the tax preparation business, but it’s clear that they see CPAs playing a very important role in the process. It’s also good to recognize that we’re not always competing with one another for every client dollar, some clients that are a great fit for me, may not be great for you, and vice versa.

    • Jason Dinesen says

      I agree. Being successful in the tax business is all about finding your niche and serving it well.