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Cheap CPE, Including Ethics, for EAs

Updated on October 17, 2011
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Keith Schroeder writes The Wealthy Accountant blog with 30 years experience in the tax field. He is the tax adviser of Mr. Money Mustache.

It is the endless struggle of enrolled agents, cheap CPEs. Time, cost, and quality of online and other cheap CPE programs are necessary to fulfill the requirements of Treasury Circular 320. In this article we will discuss Circular 320 requirements for EAs and how to plan your continuing professional education for cheap CPE, including: online, Webinar, seminar, and conference CPE courses.

Requirements (Circular 320)

EAs are required to complete 72 hours on continuing professional education each 3 year enrollment cycle. A minimum of 16 hours are required each year, with an average of 24 hours per year. Two hours of ethics must be included each year in the 16+ hours of continuing professional education.

Circular 320 has a narrow definition of continuing profession education and what counts as CPE. For a CPE course to qualify, it must enhance professional knowledge in Federal taxation or Federal tax related matters. Accounting, tax software, taxation, and ethics satisfy Circular 320’s CPE course requirements. It should be noted that only FEDERAL taxation matter count toward CPE requirements. State tax, practice building and management do not satisfy Circular 320 CPE requirements.

Documentation and Record Retention

CPE credits earned should be recorded by sponsor, title and description of program, date, location and number of CPE hours the program earned. Record retention is the responsibility of the enrolled agent.

Cheap CPE Courses

A variety of cheap CPE courses are available online. The advantages of online CPE courses are price and time. Online courses fit into your schedule. You can review course material on weekends or evenings or during a slow day at the office. Travel costs are eliminated.

The biggest disadvantage of cheap online CPE courses is quality. Most online CPE courses review an existing tax publication or are a pale review of current tax laws. You also miss the interaction with the instructor and other enrolled agents. Some of the best information gained by an enrolled agent comes from interactions with colleagues during breaks. There is nothing against the rules of continuing professional education that says you can’t learn tools to further your career and income.


Webinars are a useful tool for satisfying CPE requirements. Webinars are more expensive than most cheap online CPE courses, but are far more interesting. Other enrolled agents in the office can sit in without additional cost if they do not need the CPE credits.

Webinars save travel costs, but the webinar itself is about the same cost as a seminar. Webinars have various amounts of interaction allowed. A powerful speaker can enhance learning. However, it may be difficult to ask questions.

Seminars and Conferences

There is the story of the farmer that entered his mule into a thoroughbred horse race. A young man wandered by and asked, “You think your mule has a chance at winning the race?”

“Not a chance,” replied the farmer.

“Then why did you enter him?” the young man asked.

“Well,” the farmer said, “I thought the association with thoroughbreds would do him good.”

Seminars and conferences have the same effect on enrolled agents looking to fulfill their continuing professional education requirements. Conferences and seminars have the added cost of travel, sometimes a significant additional cost. The conference or seminar also costs more than cheap online courses. However, conferences and seminars have the advantage of interaction with the instructor and other tax professionals.

Conferences cost the most and require the largest travel expense. But like the mule entered in the race, a conference offers significant opportunity to learn, build, and grow an enrolled agent’s career. Tax strategies learned at a conference can be used to help the enrolled agent’s client’s back home. This is an added opportunity to provide a value-added service that can be billed out.

Online CPE Courses for CPAs: Cheap online CPE courses and more for the CPA.

9 Best Tax Software Programs: Who has the best tax software on the market? Who has the worst?

5 Questions to Ask Your Tax Preparer: Know what to ask your tax preparer before you turn over personal information.

How Far Can You Push the IRS: If the IRS disallows a deduction, you have recourse. Know your rights.

The Proper Mix

Cheap online CPE is not cheap if it doesn’t serve the enrolled agent. CPE pays the enrolled agent back more than the upfront cost when handled properly.

Cheap online CPE courses have a place in an enrolled agent’s continuing professional education mix. Seminars and other live events should also play in the mix. The total cost of annual CPE can be reduced by mixing some cheap online CPE courses in with a Webinar or two, and a seminar or conference. A solid mix of continuing professional education reduces the total cost of CPE requirements while maximizing the benefits of each form of CPE course. The primary goal is not cheap CPE. The primary goal is to satisfy Circular 320 requirements, maintain and grow Federal tax knowledge, and gain useful information to serve clients with value-added services we, as tax professionals, can bill for. Everyone can win.


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