The strenuous road to becoming an enrolled agent

October 03, 2018 : Lisa Patterson

Technology and community aid in enrolled agent prep for a group of H&R Block tax professionals

Some of the toughest tests in life include a driver’s test as a teenager, the bar as a freshly graduated law student or the vision test during senior years. One of the toughest test a tax preparer can face in their career is the enrolled agent test. An enrolled agent is a federally-authorized tax practitioner who has technical expertise in the field of taxation and may represent taxpayers before the IRS when it comes to collections, audits and appeals. Enrolled agents are true tax experts who are required to demonstrate their competence in all areas of taxation, representation and ethics to the IRS. Attorneys and CPAs, both groups with state licensing, may or may not specialize in taxes.

Becoming an enrolled agent is hard. There are three parts to the EA exam each with a four-hour test. The average pass rate for the first part has dropped as low as 61 percent.

Can more studying result in higher rate of success? According to H&R Block regional director Roshelle Fetzer, it depends.

Fetzer knows about adult education practices. As a working adult she finished her bachelor’s degree and completed a master’s degree.

“Adults have different types of learning styles. Some are self-paced and do well studying independently. Other adults thrive in a study group. They can leverage the power of the group to stay committed,” said Fetzer.

This fall, she applied what she knows about adult learning to the 2,400 tax professionals in three states she leads, launching a virtual study group for the enrolled agent exams. More than 350 tax professionals are participating and come together each week to take a deep dive into a topic via the web. Offices hold viewing parties, much like a meetup, where local tax professionals meet to participate in the virtual session as an on-the-ground group.

Fezter knows the important elements for a successful class.

“I need an instructor who is ready to study for the enrolled agent three-part exam and who wants to become an EA,” said Fetzer. “I am not looking for an EA to lead the class. I want someone who is personally vested in mastering the material and leading a group through the studying.”

Deanna Silvas was tapped to teach the virtual study group this fall. She has been with H&R Block for 11 years and felt becoming an enrolled agent was the next step in her development.

“I am a senior master tax advisor and I work with enrolled agents in my offices. I see the additional support we can provided clients when interacting with the IRS from our offices. I wanted to be able to deliver that same level of expertise and be able to represent clients when working with IRS,” said Silvas.

Another element of a successful study group: lots of smart tax professionals. This summer, Fetzer was busy recruiting participants for the group. An email to more than 3,000 associates in her region solicited professionals willing to become an EA but also asked office managers and receptionists to nominate tax professionals.

“Our offices leaders and receptionists know our tax professionals better than the tax pro knows himself. I wanted nominations of tax professionals by someone that knows their skills and capacity even if the tax pro has self-doubt,” said Fetzer.

The result was 394 tax professionals committing to study together for 15 weeks, meeting up weekly via the web. Some began to meet in person as a group to view the projected webinar.

Fetzer started the group study for enrolled agents while she was a district general manager. The results were good. More than 20 tax professionals in the first two study groups became enrolled agents. The results this fall are looking good too. The study group sat for the test on ethics and representation this month. The results were lots of excited texts, posts to a study Facebook group and smiling faces including Fetzer who is leading by example by participating in the study group. She passed the first test, only two more to go.

Fetzer is optimistic for the group and the next two tests but more importantly she’s excited by the benefits that tax professionals and clients can reap.

“A regional director’s goal is to develop their team and grow the tax expertise available to clients,” said Fetzer. “Having a group of tax professionals certified as enrolled agents is a big step in both better serving clients and in helping associates who take pride in their expertise and want to grow and be challenged.”

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Lisa Patterson

Lisa Patterson

Contributor and Producer

Lisa Patterson has been a member of the H&R Block newsroom since 2012. She supports efforts to educate consumers and members of the media about taxes and company happenings. Before helping tax professionals talk taxes with the media, Patterson was a consultant for small companies running social media efforts, blogs, events and product marketing. She spent more than 10 years in local government managing communications for city operations, fire and the city manager. Patterson holds two degrees from University of Kansas: a Bachelor's in Business with an emphasis in marketing and a Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications.

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