CPA Vs. EA

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Enrolled agents and certified public accountants are accounting professionals with extra training and advanced licenses. They can do jobs other accountants can’t do, and probably earn more money. An enrolled agent can be a certified public accountant, and vice-versa. The federal government tests and certifies enrolled agents, and they work in private industry. CPAs take state- and industry-mandated tests and work in government and the business sector.

Education

  • Most states require candidates for CPA exams to hold bachelor’s degrees in accounting or related fields, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most enrolled agents—and most accountants in general--have four-year degrees, but some enter the workforce with associate’s degrees or certificates from business schools. Many take training courses to help them prepare for CPA and EA exams. Both CPAs and enrolled agents fulfill continuing education requirements to keep their certifications current.

Enrolled Agents

  • Most enrolled agents do tax work. The EA credential allows them to represent taxpayers in dealings with the Internal Revenue Service. They prepare tax returns, appear for clients during audits, intercede in collections issues, set up installment plans and offer compromises to the IRS. EAs who have passed a tax court exam can represent clients in court, according to AccountingMajors.com. The Treasury Department oversees enrolled agents’ continuing education.

CPAs

  • The CPA credential qualifies accountants to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Many CPAs work for companies whose shares trade on the stock market. State boards of accountancy license CPAs and keep track of their continuing education requirements, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many CPAs work as independent consultants.

Pay for EAs

  • Enrolled agents working as tax accountants, preparers and managers, and in other areas of business as staff accountants, insurance actuaries and financial controllers, earn $40,000 to $110,000 per year, according to Payscale.com. In general, actuaries are at the top of that scale and tax preparers are at the bottom, according to Payscale.com.

CPA pay

  • Average starting salaries in the field of public accounting range from $40,000 to $57,500, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and CPAs earn 10 to 15 percent more than that, depending on the job. Median salary for a CPA with 20 years on the job ranges from $110,000 to $120,000 per year, according to Payscale.com.

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