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Understanding Tax Return Preparer Credentials and Qualifications

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Any tax professional with an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) is authorized to prepare federal tax returns.

However, tax professionals have differing levels of skills, education and expertise.

An important difference in the types of practitioners is “representation rights.” Here is guidance on each credential and qualification:

UNLIMITED REPRESENTATION RIGHTS: Enrolled agents, certified public accountants, and attorneys have unlimited representation rights before the IRS. Tax professionals with these credentials may represent their clients on any matters including audits, payment/collection issues, and appeals.

Enrolled Agents – Licensed by the IRS. Enrolled agents are subject to a suitability check and must pass a three-part Special Enrollment Examination, which is a comprehensive exam that requires them to demonstrate proficiency in federal tax planning, individual and business tax return preparation, and representation. They must complete 72 hours of continuing education every 3 years. Learn more about the Enrolled Agent Program.

Certified Public Accountants – Licensed by state boards of accountancy, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Certified public accountants have passed the Uniform CPA Examination. They have completed a study in accounting at a college or university and also met experience and good character requirements established by their respective boards of accountancy. In addition, CPAs must comply with ethical requirements and complete specified levels of continuing education in order to maintain an active CPA license. CPAs may offer a range of services; some CPAs specialize in tax preparation and planning.