Frank Degen, president of the National Association of Enrolled Agents, Tax Pro Today about the challenges tax preparers face, why practitioners should join associations, and more.
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What is the biggest challenge facing tax preparers today?
Degen: Uncertainty. The challenge is two-fold. First is the uncertainty in the legislative area. What will Congress do? What will happen to the Bush tax cuts, the extenders, the AMT patch, and so on? Because of this, it is extremely difficult for practitioners to give sound advice to their clients.
Second is the uncertainty in the tax administration area. Will the IRS effectively administer the new preparer registration regime? There appear to be a large number of preparers who still must be tested and registered. Additionally, will the IRS effectively publicize the significant differences between the federal designations -- the senior credential of Enrolled Agent and the junior credential of registered tax return preparer?
What is your association doing to help them?
Degen: NAEA has strong in-house departments in government relations and communications. The advocacy efforts of the GR department, bolstered by strong staff and volunteer efforts, have produced a productive relationship with members and staffers of the congressional tax-writing committees in both the House and the Senate. NAEA works in cooperation with IRS personnel in the office of National Public Liaison, the Return Preparer Office and the Office of Professional Responsibility. The directors of RPO and OPR have frequently spoken at NAEA events.
The public awareness efforts of the communications department have resulted in significant advancement of the EA brand. The EA tagline – “America’s Tax Experts” – is always used and NAEA continually emphasizes the special role of EAs as the only federally licensed tax practitioners with unlimited rights to represent taxpayers. NAEA also produces a weekly electronic newsletter to keep members informed about its advocacy and public awareness efforts and other tax-related news.
Why should a preparer join an association?
Degen: Practitioners should join an association to help advance their profession. A good professional society looks out for the needs of the overall profession and helps the general public understand what members do. The association that best advances the EA profession is NAEA. The only members of NAEA are Enrolled Agents. All of NAEA’s resources are dedicated to the protection and promotion of the EA credential. NAEA also provides continuing education in its National Tax Practice Institute, providing education to Enrolled Agents and other practitioners in the field of representing taxpayers before the IRS. The networking achieved through NTPI is priceless. Graduates of the three-level program become NTPI Fellows and possess the skills to effectively represent taxpayers.
What should practitioners look for in an association now?
Degen: An association that is a leader in the profession. Potential members should look for established programs that have consistently delivered high-quality education events that bring together people in the profession. They should consider what the association is doing to promote and safeguard the profession. NAEA meets the specific needs of Enrolled Agents through advocacy, promotion and representation education.
Where do you see tax-preparer associations five years from now?
Degen: For NAEA, the future holds continued advocacy with IRS and Congress, and continued efforts to help tax preparers achieve the highest-level designation offered by the IRS -- Enrolled Agent. In Publication 4693A, the IRS writes that the EA is the most expansive license it grants a professional. I believe the number of Enrolled Agents will grow significantly in the next five years. Technology and social media will have an effect on modes of delivery for education, but networking opportunities, regardless of delivery method, will still be a desired result.
See our other Q&As with association leaders:
• The National Society of Accountants' Harlan Rose.
• The National Association of Registered Tax Return Preparers' Andy Carter.
• The National Association of Tax Professionals’ Kathy Stanek.