Q&A: With tax day coming, here’s what to know about the difference between an enrolled agent and a CPA

Dear Liz: What is the difference between using an enrolled agent and a certified public accountant to file income taxes? I have used a CPA in the past to file my federal and state income taxes but I need to find a new person for this job. My financial situation is fairly simple: single, no dependents and no real estate. Is an EA qualified to file income taxes? Do they look for possible tax credits? What happens if there is an audit?

Answer: Enrolled agents specialize in taxes. They can prepare returns, provide tax advice and represent you in an audit. (In fact, many enrolled agents used to work for the IRS, giving them intimate knowledge of the agency’s policies and practices.)

CPAs have broader education requirements and don’t necessarily specialize in taxes. They may be auditors, financial planners or business consultants, for example.

If you have complex financial or tax needs, a CPA could be a good fit. Otherwise, an EA could fill the bill and may be more economical. You can get referrals from the National Assn. of Enrolled Agents.