By Jason Bramwell
Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Louisiana Congressman Charles Boustany Jr. introduced legislation on June 11 that would allow enrolled agents to be able to identify themselves with their Treasury Department–granted credential in any state in the country.
Enrolled agents are federally licensed tax practitioners who specialize in taxation and have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS, according to the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), a not-for-profit organization that represents the more than 51,000 licensed enrolled agents in the United States. Enrolled agent status is the highest credential awarded by the IRS.
However, some states, including Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio, restrict enrolled agents from using their credential when representing taxpayers or advertising for potential clients.
"Enrolled agents are granted a license to practice by the federal government, yet in some states, they are prohibited from calling themselves by their federally granted title", Robert Kerr, senior director of government relations for the NAEA, told AccountingWEB. "This state of affairs is unacceptable to these tax experts who have demonstrated their proficiency to the very federal agency that says grace over the administration of our tax code."
The legislation, Senate Bill 1134 and House of Representatives Bill 2313, also known as the Enrolled Agents Credential Act, would enable enrolled agents to use and display their credential when advertising their services and representing their clients.
"Our antiquated tax code is a burden on Ohio families and businesses, and oftentimes requires them to seek professional assistance to pore over the complex paperwork", Portman said in a written statement. "This commonsense measure will protect taxpayers and consumers by ensuring that those in need of help are able to receive quality care from qualified professionals."
Boustany added that allowing qualified professionals to highlight their credentials will not only lead to taxpayers being served more efficiently, but it will also provide an added resource for Americans to use while paying their taxes.
"Best of all, this legislation does not add one dime to the nation's debt or deficit", he said in a written statement.
In a letter sent to Portman and Boustany, the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), a not-for-profit tax association supporting approximately 25,000 tax preparers nationwide, praised the congressional leaders for their interest in and service to the tax industry. Approximately 7,000 enrolled agents belong to the NATP.
"Enrolled agents have been in existence since the Civil War, yet the public continues to be confused over who they are and what they do", NATP CEO Kathy Stanek said in a written statement. "Enrolled agents have spent considerable sums trying to promote the concept of what being 'enrolled' means. To be thwarted in this effort by state governments is counterproductive. This legislation will finally remedy this inequity."
To become an enrolled agent, a person must either pass a three-part, comprehensive IRS test covering individual and business tax or have previous technical experience as a former IRS employee. Enrolled agents must also complete seventy-two hours of continuing education courses every three years.
"In the last year or so, the federal government has begun to promote the use of licensed tax return preparers, like enrolled agents, CPAs, and lawyers, and it's important that enrolled agents be able to use their credential to distinguish themselves from unlicensed preparers", David Rothstein, project director at Policy Matters Ohio, a not-for-profit policy research organization, said in a written statement. "We support any legislation that helps Ohio taxpayers have access to tax return preparers who have shown competency through testing and continuing education and are subject to a strict code of ethics. Far too many families in Ohio and across the country receive inadequate and sometimes predatory preparation."