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  • CPA Or EA: Which Certification Is Best For You?

    In a world full of acronyms, it’s only right that we first lay out the meaning of all those letters.  A CPA is a Certified Public Accountant, and an EA is an IRS Enrolled Agent. Both positions are inept when it comes to money matters, but they have very different roles in the field.  

    If numbers are your thing, and accounting is your passion, it is important to determine your end goals early.  Here is a little information to help you compare the stamp of a CPA versus the role of an EA. Take a look, and begin mulling over your own path to success.  

    The specialty of each position

    IRS Enrolled Agents – EA’s are tax focused.  An Enrolled Agent’s main responsibilities center around representing individual taxpayers before the IRS when there is an issue of an audit.  EA’s are licensed directly by the Internal Revenue Service.  

    Certified Public Accountant – CPAs are regulated by the state in which the individual is licensed.  The scope of practice is much wider, qualifying a CPA for a more diverse spectrum of employment options, but the licensure is restricted by the jurisdiction of the state.

    The road to certification

    IRS Enrolled Agent – To become an EA, you have to pass a three-part exam which features a section on Individuals, Businesses and Representation, and Practice and Procedure.  The exam covers all aspects of the federal tax code.  

    You may also qualify by working with the IRS for five years in a position which requires you to apply or interpret tax codes on a frequent and ongoing basis.  To be a qualified candidate for the tag of EA, you’ll have to pass an extensive background check (which includes a thorough inventory of your tax history).

    Certified Public Accountant – The road to becoming a CPA includes the completion of 150 hours of undergraduate school, followed by a four-part exam, administered by the AICPA.  

    Everyone wants to know

    Everyone wants to know the difference in salary for each certification.  Typically, a CPA makes quite a bit more per year than an EA, but the variance really depends on where the individual falls in their personal career path.  

    The average salary of an IRS Enrolled Agent hovers near the $50,000 mark, and the average salary of a Certified Public Accountant is close to $62,000 a year.  

    Peak earnings of an EA typically fall around $60,000.  If you land a CPA position with a firm or become a CFO for a conglomerate, you’re facing the possibility of earning a six-figure salary.

    Why have both certifications

    It isn’t beneficial to go for an EA certification if you already have a CPA.  The only reason you would go for both is if you somehow got your EA first and were seeking an expansion in your career.