CPA vs. EA: What are the Differences?

Dear Accounting Professor:

Can you provide me with an overview of the differences between the CPA and EA credentials?


Dear Student:

Thank you for your question. Assuming that you want to pursue one of these now, I think the table below might help you understand many of the key differences between the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Enrolled Agent (EA) credentials in the United States. (This will not be true outside of the United States because every country determines their own rules.)

Minimum Education Requirements150 semester credits (including a Bachelor's degree) for most states (1)None (3)
Minimum In-field Experience RequirementsAt least one year supervised by an actively licensed CPA (2)None (3)
Minimum Age Requirements18-21 years old depending on the licensing state (some states have no age requirements) (1)18 years old (3)
U.S. Citizenship RequirementMost states do not require U.S. citizenship (1)None (14)
License Issued ByEach State (1)IRS (4)
Exam Content Managed ByAICPA (5)
IRS (4)
Exams Administered AtPrometric (2)
Prometric (6)
Number of Exams4 (11)
3 (4)
Expected Hours Spent Preparing for Each Exam Beyond Minimum Education Requirements Average of 110 (12)
40-70 (10)
Able to Represent Taxpayers Before State & Federal Tax AuthoritiesYes, in non-criminal matters only (cannot represent taxpayers in criminal matters) (7)
Yes, in non-criminal matters only (cannot represent taxpayers in criminal matters) (7)
Able to Perform Audits, Prepare Financial Statements, & Provide Other Accounting Services and Advice (such as Financial Planning)
Yes (13)
No (The EA is Tax Only) (4)
Post-licensing Continuing Education RequirementsYes, quantity varies by state (8)
72 hours (including 6 hours of regulatory ethics) every three years (4)
Pre-licensing Background ChecksVaries by State (9)
Yes, both tax and criminal (4))



















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