Despite my recent retirement, I renewed my Enrolled Agent credential this year.
Why would I do such a thing, and continue to being subject to the requirements of the credential, if I don’t need it anymore?
For those readers that are unaware, the Enrolled Agent credential is granted by the IRS after taking a three-part exam on federal tax law. It grants tax professionals standing equal to CPAs and lawyers when representing taxpayers in front of the IRS. There are only about 65,000 of us around the world, so we’re a pretty small sub-profession within the broader accounting industry.
Here are the 10 reasons why I’m keeping my license active, despite being retired.
#1: To have a Plan D. Plan A is to live off my investment portfolio and income from rental properties. If things get tight, Plan B is to pull cash out of rental property equity, either by mortgage or sale. Plan C is to generate income through some sort of modern gig economy side hustle, such as renting out space on my property for seasonal RV camping. Plan D is going back to work full-time. I hope that it never comes to that, but I don’t think the IRS is going away anytime soon, so there will always be opportunity to represent taxpayers in trouble. Having an employable skill, and the appropriate license to practice, is never a bad idea.
#2: To keep my brain active. One of my earliest big lessons in retirement has to do with the paradox of choice. When you can do anything you want, it’s easy to just do nothing. That’s obviously no good. By keeping my EA license active, I’m forced to complete 24 hours per year of continuing education. Yes, that’s only 2 hours per month, but if I choose my classes wisely (instead of just choosing whatever is easiest or free), I can keep up on legislative and regulatory changes. I can also take the opportunity to acquire new competencies outside of my core IRS Collections representation expertise. Right now, for example, I’m focusing on tax planning classes, which is an arena that I never practiced in professionally, but is a pretty important skill for a tax professional with a more general practice — which is where I’d likely land if Plan D ever needed to be implemented.
#3: Just in case I want to teach again. I love teaching, and built two successful companies related to continuing education delivery within the accounting profession. I need my EA license if I want to teach tax law to CPAs, which represent the bulk of tax continuing education attendees. This is less about earning extra cash in retirement, and more about staying engaged with my profession and doing something I enjoy.
#4: Somebody might need help. Taxes are such a complicated subject, and the IRS is such a nightmare to deal with, that it’s almost inevitable that are some point in the near future I’ll have a friend or family member that needs help with a tax debt, audit, or notice. Even if I do it for free, having the license makes it possible for me to offer the service to somebody I care about that needs help.
#5: In case I want to go CPA. Despite a nearly 15-year career within the accounting profession, I am not a CPA. In fact, I don’t even have an accounting degree. Depending on the day, the alignment of the planets, and who I’ve been talking to, I sometimes twitch a little about never having earned that CPA credential. It’s ridiculous to think that way, and I know that, but it is what it is. The younglings these days call it “impostor syndrome”. I’ve made stutter-steps in the past towards the accounting degree, which is required in order to sit for the CPA exam. Through a weird back-door process, an active EA license could earn me up to 9 semester hours of upper division college credit towards that accounting degree. I acknowledge that it’s a dumb reason, but it’s still a reason.
#6: It gives me alphabet soup. Another really dumb reason. Even dumber than the previous one. But in a profession like accounting, the initials after your name provide some sort of clout amongst certain peers. Not all of them, but some of them. Those “EA” initials after my name put me on the absolute lowest rung of a very tall ladder within the accounting profession, but it at least puts me on the ladder. Again, it’s stupid, and I know that.
#7: It gives me a professional peer group. Humans need tribes in order to thrive. All of us yearn to belong to one or more tribes. My EA license is the admission price to a certain tribe. Here in a few weeks, I’ll be attending the annual convention of the Health Physics Society, the national association for individuals in the radiation protection profession. These are the people that work at nuclear power plants, universities, hospitals, and other places where radioactive material is found. Their job is to minimize human exposure to that radiation. As crazy as it may sound, that was my profession in a previous life, before I stumbled into Taxlandia. But today, I’m so far removed from it that the HPS membership committee was extremely confused about my recent membership application. It’s what BS degree is in, and what I studied for my one year of graduate school, but it’s clearly not what I did or do for a living. This is not my professional peer group. At the conference, I’ll be the weird outsider. But at an IRS Tax Forum or NATP conference, I fit right in, because I’m one of them. Fellow tax nerds are my tribe.
#8: Leaving the door open for opportunity. I’m an entrepreneur. Starting companies is just what I do — even if they crash and burn. I’m retired now, but who knows what opportunity might come along. To be blunt, I have absolutely ZERO intention of ever starting another business within, tangential to, or providing services to the broader tax, accounting, financial, or legal services sectors. After many years of 60-100 hour workweeks, and many other frustrations, I have zero desire to ever start another business at all. And even if I did, I’d prefer to tackle an unrelated industry, to do something completely different. BUT…you never know. The right opportunity just might present itself, and it might just be beneficial to have that EA license — you just never know.
#9: To serve those less fortunate. At the end of 2021, I signed up to volunteer with AARP to prepare tax returns at the local community center here in 2022. I only lasted about two weeks into their volunteer training classes, when I realized that I had zero desire to prepare tax returns. As alluded to above, I was just burned out on all things tax-related. Plus, I have very little tax return preparation experience, since I came from the representation world. Thus, I quickly stepped back and un-volunteered. But that’s tax prep. While there is no Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC) near me, which provides representation assistance to low-income taxpayers, there are things I could do on my own, or perhaps as a “satellite” to an LITC in the big city. After a couple year break from the grind of running a business, I could see myself perhaps doing something like this. Maybe. We’ll see. If I did, I need the license.
#10: Credibility as an author. I will continue to occasionally update some of my tax books, when and if I feel like it. Since most of my books are written for tax professionals, keeping my EA license active provides credibility and affinity for me to that audience. This is merely a pragmatic business development thing, which is appropriate for me to point out since this is a business development blog.
There you have it: The 10 reasons why I’m keeping my EA license active despite being retired. No matter what industry you’re in, what credentials, licenses, or degrees you hold or are working on, I hope that this short list gives you some practical career development or business development insight for your own situation.
Power in profit,
Jassen Bowman, EA
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