Guidance on Continuing Professional Education (CPE) for Enrolled Agents

To qualify for continuing professional education credit, a course of learning must be designed to enhance an enrolled agents professional proficiency in Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters.  This would include accounting courses, tax preparation software and/or ethics courses. 

The field(s) of study should include subjects dealing with federal tax compliance and tax planning.  Compliance covers tax return preparation and review and IRS examinations, ruling requests and protests.  Tax planning focuses on applying federal tax rules to prospective transactions and understanding the tax implication of unusual or complex transactions.

It should be recognized that enrolled agents already possess certain educational and technical skills.  Therefore, the objective of a sponsor in presenting acceptable continuing education programs should be to increase these skills and the level of professional competence of the enrolled agent.  The following types of programs would not meet this objective if they have been designed for the general public:

  1. Basic courses in the areas of taxes geared toward the general public and related technical subjects with which the enrolled agents are already familiar.
  2. Programs not directly related to Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters such as, personal development, personal investments, office management, general computer software or sales-oriented presentations for office equipment and other system applications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) –Continuing Professional Education for Enrolled Agents - Updated October 27, 2004

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is a requirement for renewal of enrollment.  Renewing individuals must certify that he or she has satisfied the CPE requirements. 

1.  Q. How can I be sure if a course meets the CPE requirements of Circular 230?

A. Section 10.6(f) of Circular 230 sets out the requirements for qualifying continuing education. To determine whether a course qualifies, apply the "litmus test" below based on the requirements of Circular 230.

  • Enrolled agents are authorized to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service
  • The purpose of taking continuing education is to enhance the agent's ability to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service
  • Ask yourself, how would the course help you to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service (will it increase your understanding of the Federal tax laws, the Service's rules, regulations or procedures, etc.)?
    • If the course would enhance your ability to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service in regard to Federal taxation or tax related matters your rationale for taking the course is consistent with Circular 230.
    • If there is no connection to Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters and the course is related to issues where there would be no reason for you to represent taxpayers before the IRS the course would not meet the requirements for an Enrolled Agent.

2.  Q. What is the Internal Revenue Service's position with regard to State tax courses or International tax courses meeting Circular 230 requirements?

A. Applying the litmus test stated above, if the course taken enhances an Enrolled Agents ability to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service - the requirements of Circular 230 have been met.

3.  Q. Do all courses offered by qualified Sponsors meet the criteria for continuing education credit for enrolled agents?

A.  Not every course offered by qualified sponsors qualifies for continuing education for enrolled agents.  For instance, many courses offered by a Board of Accountancy may cover subject areas unrelated to taxes.  To qualify for continuing education credit, a course of learning must be designed to enhance the enrolled agents professional proficiency in Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters.  Although not all-inclusive, the following are examples of courses that would qualify for CPE; accounting courses that have a substantial relationship to federal taxes, tax preparation software and ethics.

The field(s) of study generally should include subjects dealing with Federal tax compliance and tax planning.  Compliance covers tax return preparation and review and IRS examinations, ruling requests and protests.  Tax planning focuses on applying federal tax rules to prospective transactions and understanding the tax implication of unusual or complex transactions.

It should be recognized that enrolled agents already possess certain educational and technical skills.  Therefore, the objective of a sponsor in presenting acceptable continuing education programs should be to increase these skills and the level of professional competence of the enrolled agent.  Programs not directly related to Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters such as, personal development, personal money management, personal investments, sales-oriented presentations for office equipment and other system applications, business law, bookkeeping would not qualify for continuing education credit for enrolled agents.

4.   Q. How do I know if my courses qualify as acceptable CPE?

A.  IRS does not pre approve/approve courses.  The individual enrolled agent must take the responsibility of determining what is acceptable.  You must be sure that the course(s) meets the guidelines set forth in the Treasury Department Circular No. 230.  Section 10.6(f) Qualifying continuing education—(1) General. To qualify for continuing education credit, a course of learning must-

      (i)  Be a qualifying program designed to enhance professional knowledge in Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters, i.e., comprised of current subject matter in Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters, including accounting, tax preparation software and taxation or ethics; and

      (ii)  Be conducted by a qualifying sponsor.

5.  Q. How do I know if a sponsor is qualified?

A. You can ask if the potential sponsor has been accepted into an Agreement with the IRS, Office of Professional Responsibility.  To qualify as a sponsor, a program presenter must—

      (i)   Be an accredited educational institution;

     (ii)  Be recognized for continuing education purposes by the licensing body of any     State, territory, or possession of the United States, including a Commonwealth, or the District of Columbia

     (iii)  Be recognized by the Director of Practice/Director, Office of Professional Responsibility as a professional organization or society whose programs include offering continuing professional education or

      (iv)  File a sponsor agreement with the Director of Practice/Director, Office of Professional Responsibility and obtain approval of the program as a qualified continuing education program.

While (i) and (ii) above are automatically qualified to sponsor continuing education, (iii) and (iv) above are required to enter into a Sponsor Agreement with the IRS, Office of Professional Responsibility.   Upon entering the agreement, Sponsors agree to notify enrolled individuals of their acceptance by the Office of Professional Responsibility.  The Office of Professional Responsibility provided Sponsors an Agreement number that can be shared with potential students.

6.  Q. If an enrolled agent enrolls in the middle of an enrollment year, how does the   ethics requirement apply?

A.  An enrolled agent is not required to take ethics if he or she enrolls in the middle of an enrollment year.  The regulation does not require ethics until the agent begins his or her first three-year enrollment cycle.

7.  Q. If an individual takes the periodic examination to achieve renewal, is he or she subject to the ethics requirement?

A. An enrolled agent is not required to take ethics if he or she takes the periodic examination to achieve renewal.

8.  Q. If I take more than 2 hours of ethics courses in a year, does it count for the following year ethics requirement?

A. No.  Section 10.6(e)(2)(ii) requires - A minimum of 16 hours of continuing education credit, including 2 hours of ethics or professional conduct, must be completed in each year of an enrollment cycle.  However, the additional hours may be credited to your general CPE requirement.

9.  Q. Under the current regulations, when am I expected to begin taking Ethics as a CPE requirement? (Updated 8/20/04)

A. The Office of Professional Responsibility encourages all Enrolled Agents to take ethics starting this year. However, under the regulations, 2 hours of ethics is not actually required until:

  • Enrolled Agents with Social Security Numbers ending in 0, 1, 2, or 3 who were enrolled prior to March 31, 2004 are required to take 2 hours of ethics each year starting in 2004. Enrolled Agents with Social Security Numbers ending in 0, 1, 2, or 3 who were enrolled after March 31, 2004, are not required to begin taking Ethics unitl 2007. However, we encourage these Enrolled Agents to begin taking ethics immediately.
  • 2005 for those with SSNs ending in 4, 5, and 6; and,
  • 2006 for those with SSNs ending in 7, 8, and 9.

10.  Q. I’m trying to find information about what ethics courses qualify for the 2 hours requirement for my renewal?

A. The ethics course should be designed for the tax professional and cover ethical issues that arise in a tax practice.  For example, courses that review Treasury Circular 230 would qualify. 

11.  Q. Does the IRS monitor an enrolled agent’s compliance with their continuing education requirements?

A. In the past we have not monitored compliance.  However, under the regulation we have the authority to do so and we plan to begin in 2004.  In 2004 we will start with enrolled agents whose Social Security numbers ends in 0, 1, 2, or 3.  In 2005 we will look at agents with Social Security numbers ending in 4, 5, 6 and in 2005 we will monitor enrolled agents with Social Security numbers ending in 7, 8, or 9.

12.  Q. How can I find a CPE sponsor?

A.  One way to find sponsors would be to search the Internet for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) providers for Enrolled Agents.  You can ask the provider if they have entered into an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service.  If they have entered into an agreement, they can provide you with their Sponsor number.

13.  Q. What are the recordkeeping requirements for retaining CPE records?

A. Basically, records must be kept for a period of three years. 

  • Sponsors must maintain records to verify the participants who attended and completed the program for a period of three years following completion of the program.In the case of continuous conferences, conventions, and the like, records must be maintained to verify completion of the program and attendance by each participant at each segment of the program.
  • Individuals applying for renewal of enrollment must retain CPE records for three years following the date of renewal.

Such information includes:

  1. The name of the sponsoring organization
  2. The location of the program
  3. The title of the program and description of its content
  4. Written outlines, course syllabi, textbook, and/or electronic materials provided or required for the course
  5. The dates attended
  6. The credit hours claimed
  7. The name(s) of the instructor(s), discussion leader(s), or speaker(s), if appropriate; and
  8. The certificate of completion and/or signed statement of the hours of attendance obtained from the sponsor

14.  Q.  The information I have been able to find mentions CPE requirements for the past two years.  Am I responsible for CPE for two years I wasn’t an enrolled agent?  The information seems to assume that the rules apply to persons who have been members for at least three years. 

A.  No, for renewal purposes, the annual CPE requirements only apply for the years in which you were an enrolled agent.  You are not required to take CPE for those years prior to becoming an enrolled agent.

15.  Q.  In addition to being an enrolled agent, I am a member of a Bar Association Tax Section.   I attended their meeting last month and they offered CLE credit to attorneys.  My question is, can I use the seminars I attended at the Bar Association meeting that were accredited to CLE as credit toward my CPE requirement?  If so, what record keeping do I need to do to show the CPE courses I took?

A.  Without having specifics about the Tax Section meeting you attended, it is difficult to answer whether it would qualify as CPE for an enrolled agent.  To qualify for continuing professional education credit, a course of learning must be designed to enhance an enrolled agents professional proficiency in Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters and be conducted by a qualifying sponsor.  Program sponsors must provide each attendee with a certificate of attendance. 

16.  Q.  In addition to being an Enrolled Agent, I have continuing education requirements to maintain my CPA license.  Would a workers compensation or life insurance course qualify under my enrolled agent requirements?

A.  Although cognizant of the importance of non-tax related programs, such as workers compensation, etc., the Service determined that allowing enrolled agents to satisfy their continuing education requirements with classes that do not have a direct nexus to federal tax law would undercut the purpose of the continuing education requirements of Circular 230.

17.  Q. Do any of the seminars that the IRS Nationwide Tax Forums offer qualify for the hours of continuing education needed to eliminate my limited enrollment?

A.  A former employee with limited enrollment can have the limitation removed if he/she completes 36 hours of CPE in areas outside the scope of their expertise.  Courses taken at a Tax Forum outside of the Enrolled Agent’s area of expertise would qualify towards the 36 hours.  Courses within the Enrolled Agent’s area of expertise would not qualify.