Three words define Enrolled Agent Frank Degen: professional, involved, and happy.
Degen earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Iona College, and a Masters in that discipline from Johns Hopkins University. He was teaching high school math when a neighbor, a successful tax preparer with a large practice, encouraged him to get into the business. This was the beginning of his thriving tax preparation business and involvement with industry organizations.
By 1984 he earned the enrolled agent designation and became active in the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA). He was president of NAEA twice, in 2005-2006 and 2012-2013, where, among other duties, he represented enrolled agents in many venues, including both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Oversight Committee, the IRS Oversight Board, and the media.
Continuing his education, Degen studied for and passed the US Tax Court exam, demonstrating his knowledge of the Internal Revenue Code and earning the right to represent clients in that venue. Since 1942, only about 300 non-attorneys have been admitted to the Tax Court bar.
When describing his involvement in the industry, Degen says, “It has uplifted my sense of professionalism. You tend to view yourself as a stronger tax preparer.”
Today, Degen has trimmed his client list to about 300 individual and non-profit clients, no longer preparing business returns. Now, he is more interested in focusing attention on each individual client and affording himself more personal and family time.
“This is one of the best jobs a person can have,” he notes. “Contrary to the whining about the tax prep business that I see on message boards, it is one of the most satisfying jobs anyone could have. You work really hard for about 4 months, but the rest of the year you can have relaxed hours and flexibility. I know my clients, don’t take walk-ins, and have control over my life.”
Despite scaling back his practice, Degen does not plan to retire. “As long as my mind stays good, I’m ready to go. Besides, I enjoy it – I like working with my clients.”
As a family man, he counts himself fortunate to have two wonderful grandchildren, ages 7 and 4. “They are the children of my older son, Erich,” he says, “who is the customer service manager of a large multi-store retail operation;” his daughter-in-law Bryann is an elementary school teacher. Degen’s wife of 47 years, Jane, a retired registered nurse, is happy to serve as baby sitter for the two grand-kids, who he sees just about every day. He and Jane have two other children: Beth is a registered nurse in a surgical cardiac intensive care unit, and younger son Sean is a member of FDNY. Also a major part of the family is Beau – the black lab.
“If Jane was given the option of keeping me or Beau, I’m afraid to say I’d go first,” he laughs.
Degen has used Drake Software since 2005, and is happy with the product. He’s impressed that Drake listens to its clients to bring a better product to the table each year. And he notes that if the IRS could answer the phones as well as Drake does, tax preparation would be a much easier job.
“I have no hesitation recommending Drake to other tax professionals,” Degen says.
As for other suggestions for his tax preparation colleagues, he has two:
- Join a professional organization
“Tax preparation is a profession – not just a job,” Degen says. “I would strongly urge my Drake colleagues – especially those who are not Circular 230 practitioners — to study and become an enrolled agent. You will gain the capacity to fully engage with your clients in consultation, preparation, and representation for all their tax matters.”
- Utilize online message boards
Online message boards dedicated to tax preparation let tax professionals engage in dialogue and ask questions of their colleagues. “There are a number of knowledgeable users,” he maintains, “who are quite willing to share their expertise with the other members of the Drake user community.”