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EA or CPA - Complete Controller

When people talk about tax, they mean two things.  Tax planning (planning transactions before they happen) and tax compliance (filling out forms, applying for credits, calculating, etc.).  There are four choices: EA, CPA, tax attorney, and non-credentialed accountant.  There are differences in what each professional will do for you or your business. Check out America's Best BookkeepersIf you are in the habit of getting your bookkeeping done by a CPA, they offer tax service, and they seem knowledgeable, it probably won’t hurt to have the CPA do your taxes.  They know all your financials anyway, and it’s easier to have it all done by the same person.  For complicated, out-of-the-norm things, though, it might be better to tread with caution.  A CPA who does small business is probably good at things like personal taxes and low business tax compliance.  Any more than that, and it depends on how up-to-date they are in their CPE.

It’s hard to say without knowing what you want your tax person to do.  We’re going to assume that all four are equally competent and ethical.  If you want someone to file your taxes, then the EA or NCA will be more cost-efficient.  (Tax software or doing your taxes is the MOST cost-efficient, but if you’re looking for a tax person, you have already decided you want someone else to do it.) 

If you want to think about a more complicated scenario, then it starts getting a little confused.  Estate planning and need to figure out the most tax-efficient way to pass your millions on to the next generation? Incorporating a partnership?  Dissolving a business? Do you need to be clear what your needs are? Check out America's Best Bookkeepers

EA vs. CPA: A Note

Some of the EAs are accountants that decide to go for an EA exam instead of the CPA exam because they are mostly not interested in auditing and attestation work. They are most often compared to CPAs in terms of experience and knowledge. In addition to this, an EA can be an acceptable substitute for a CPA within an organization’s tax branches.

For all that, though, EAs are looked down upon, because the requirements to sit for the exam are… zero.  If you think you want to take the SEE, go for it; all you need is to be 18 years old!  If you’re going to take the CPA exam, you have to complete specific college or certification courses.

For example, if a person is MS in Accounting and is having over 150 hours of college and graduate education by the time they graduate.  Their graduate GPA is almost 4.0.  However, they are ineligible to sit for the CPA exam because the specific courses they took in college don’t match up to the CPA requirementsCheck out America's Best Bookkeepers

Moreover, they could go to a different state and take the CPA exam there instead. If the CPA is living and working in another country, and they don’t have any interest in audit or attest work, they should get the EA license instead.  If you want to make partner in a firm, you will ultimately have to get the CPA license down the road (legal requirements having to do with firm formation/partner qualifications), and clients respond better to someone with CPA behind their name. 

Last Words

The accountant credential doesn’t necessarily matter, but it’s a useful shorthand for their experience/education/background/training.  Ultimately, choosing a good accountant is like choosing a doctor/lawyer/dentist/any other professional.  Get to know them and what they specialize in or like to do.  Make your choice from there!  Above all, find a financial professional you can trust.  They’re going to know a LOT about some very private details of your life.  Pick an accountant the way you’d pick a reliable partner: think carefully, throw away arbitrary requirements, and go with what works best for YOU.

Check out America's Best Bookkeepers About Complete Controller® – America’s Bookkeeping Experts Complete Controller is the Nation’s Leader in virtual bookkeeping, providing service to businesses and households alike. Utilizing Complete Controller’s technology, clients gain access to a cloud-hosted desktop where their entire team and tax accountant may access the QuickBooks™️ file, critical financial documents, and back-office tools in an efficient and secure environment. Complete Controller’s team of certified US-based accounting professionals provide bookkeeping, record storage, performance reporting, and controller services including training, cash-flow management, budgeting and forecasting, process and controls advisement, and bill-pay. With flat-rate service plans, Complete Controller is the most cost-effective expert accounting solution for business, family-office, trusts, and households of any size or complexity. Check out America's Best Bookkeepers

It can be confusing to distinguish between accounting degrees, and which is best for your career goals. Certified public accountants (CPA) and enrolled agents (EA) are the two well-known degrees for tax professionals. Both are excellent choices; here, we will discuss them in detail.

What is a CPA and an EA?

A certified public accountant (CPA), has passed the CPA exam to be an accounting specialist. They have to take part in state education and also gain work experience to become licensed. One of their main jobs is auditing financial statements. One of the well-known roles of the CPA is tax preparation. They prepare different types of client tax forms, from property taxes to income taxes. They often give advice and strategies to help their clients relieve tax burdens. CPAs can also have roles in consulting, auditing, financial planning, and other accounting services. Check out America's Best Bookkeepers

An enrolled agent (EA), is a federally certified tax practitioner.  They represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. They also provide tax consultation services and prepare federal and state tax returns. Unlike CPA, the enrolled agent is regulated on the federal level. To become certified, you must pass the three-part EA exam, which covers all the aspects related to taxation.

CPA vs. EA Costs

A lump-sum amount to complete CPA certification includes application cost, exam costs, ethics, and licensing. These costs do not include the cost to achieve a related degree. Mandatory continuous yearly development also comes with a cost. Check out America's Best Bookkeepers

Becoming an EA is much less costly. The exam costs are less than that of the CPA, and though they also have yearly courses, those are less costly than the annual education costs of the CPA.

EA vs. CPA Salary

CPAs earn more than EAs. According to Payscale.com, a CPA earns around $40,000 to $140,000 per year. The enrolled agent earns approximately $30,000 to $75,000 per year.

CPAs also have more earning potential down the road. The EAs peak earning is often flattened out as they progress ahead in their career due to the federal attachment. A CPA can also serve as a CFO in a big multinational company that can take a six-figure salary while the only opportunities for EAs are with the IRS.

EA vs. CPA Career Prospects Check out America's Best Bookkeepers

While enrolled agents mainly focus on tax-related issues, such as tax preparation and tax advisory, CPAs have a greater number of choices in terms of career. They can work for private firms, in the government, or independently.

Enrolled agents can also work for private firms, in the government, or independently. They do have limitations in their career that becoming a CPA eliminates.

If you like working with taxes and manage to keep up to date with the complicated regulations, EA seems to be the ideal choice for you and is less expensive to become than a CPA. It can also allow you to work flexible hours and takes less time to become one.

Becoming a CPA provides a much broader scope of career prospects and also offers better compensation compared to an EA.  There are pluses and minuses to pursuing both careers; you have to decide which one is right for you.

Check out America's Best Bookkeepers About Complete Controller® – America’s Bookkeeping Experts Complete Controller is the Nation’s Leader in virtual bookkeeping, providing service to businesses and households alike. Utilizing Complete Controller’s technology, clients gain access to a cloud-hosted desktop where their entire team and tax accountant may access the QuickBooks™️ file, critical financial documents, and back-office tools in an efficient and secure environment. Complete Controller’s team of certified US-based accounting professionals provide bookkeeping, record storage, performance reporting, and controller services including training, cash-flow management, budgeting and forecasting, process and controls advisement, and bill-pay. With flat-rate service plans, Complete Controller is the most cost-effective expert accounting solution for business, family-office, trusts, and households of any size or complexity. Check out America's Best Bookkeepers

Happy businesswoman wearing suit working using a calculator in a desk at office
When becoming a licensed tax professional, most consider choosing among two well-known paths –  CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or EA (Enrolled Agent). Both certifications are great and will assist you in getting a good job, promotions and earning a reasonable income. While you might consider them to be the same, there are some basic difference between the two and you must choose the one that suits you the best.

Difference Between a CPA and EA

CPA – Certified Public Accountant

A Certified Public Accountant is a state level accreditation that is awarded after you complete 150 undergrad hours and a 4-part examination. The four main areas covered in the examination include Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting, Business Environment and Concepts, and Reporting and Regulation. It is necessary for every individual to clear all four disciplines before being awarded the certification. Taxation is covered under the Regulations section and is considered an important component of the overall certification. Because the accreditation is state level, you can only practice within a specific jurisdiction. It is vital for a CPA and an EA to keep high ethical standards.

EA – Enrolled Agent

An Enrolled Agent has a federal license, which makes them eligible to represent clients in front of the IRS. Because their license is approved by the IRS, they can work anywhere in the country without any restrictions. They must, however, clear a comprehensive three-part examination that deals with areas like Businesses and Representation as well as Practice and Procedures. Everything about taxes is covered in these subjects. You can also become an enrolling agent if you have worked in the IRS at a position where you had to apply the tax code as part of your job.  The IRS often performs a background check into your personal finances and tax liabilities before granting the license.

The Difference in Career Paths

A CPA and EA have a considerably variant career path as they are required to perform to the best of their skill set. The career choices for a Certified Public Accountant are far greater than an Enrolling Agent as they can work for the government, the private sector, individuals, and other organizations for managing their financial matters as well as tax filing. An EA, on the other hand, is a specialized professional who only deals with issues related to taxes, which results in a limited career path. However, an enrolled agent will take care of tax needs better than anyone else.

The Difference in Amount of Time

It takes around 7-8 years to become a fully functional Certified Public Agent because you are required to complete 150 credit hours before sitting for the exam. In some states, you may have to gain some experience by working under a licensed CPA for a certain period of time. After that, you have 18 months to take the exam, which already has an extremely low pass percentage. Even if you do everything right and do not waste any time, it will still take you around 8 years to become a professional Certified Public Agent.

On the other hand, becoming an EA requires far less effort as you only have to clear the three-part examination. If you have enough experience working with the IRS, you may even be exempted from the examination and given the license directly. However, you will have to provide proof of a proficient record in handling tax-related issues.

The Difference in Salaries

Typically, a CPA would earn more than an EA. However, that entirely depends on where you fall on the career continuum. An enrolling agent with significant experience under their belt could earn more than a Certified Public Agent. However, being CPA offers better career growth and advancements opportunities. The yearly median salary for a professional accountant is close to $62,000, while it is around $49,000 for an agent.

One drawback of being an EA is that the income seems to flatten out once it reaches a certain peak. While, for a public accountant, there is no such limit and they can even become CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of an organization.

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About Complete Controller® – America’s Bookkeeping Experts
 Complete Controller is the Nation’s Leader in virtual accounting, providing services to businesses and households alike. Utilizing Complete Controller’s technology, clients gain access to a cloud-hosted desktop where their entire team and tax accountant may access the QuickBooks file and critical financial documents in an efficient and secure environment. Complete Controller’s team of  US based accounting professionals are certified QuickBooksTMProAdvisor’s providing bookkeeping and controller services including training, full or partial-service bookkeeping, cash-flow management, budgeting and forecasting, vendor and receivables management, process and controls advisement, and customized reporting. Offering flat rate pricing, Complete Controller is the most cost effective expert accounting solution for business, family office, trusts, and households of any size or complexity.