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ERPA & QPA vs QKA vs APA vs APR vs CEBS


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I handle the employee benefit accounts in our Trust Department. I passed the ERPA exam this week, and I sent in my ERPA enrollment to the IRS. Once I receive my ERPA credentials, I will be eligible to recieve the ASPPA designation as a QPA too. I presume that the QPA designation is above the QKA designation since ASPPA requires additional course work beyond QKA to earn the QPA. My primary question is how do the various credentials compare with one another in terms of credibility? QPA vs. QKA vs APA vs APR vs CEBS? Are there any other comparable credentials? Which of them is recognized in the field as the most prestigious?

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Guest ERISA01142002
I handle the employee benefit accounts in our Trust Department. I passed the ERPA exam this week, and I sent in my ERPA enrollment to the IRS. Once I receive my ERPA credentials, I will be eligible to recieve the ASPPA designation as a QPA too. I presume that the QPA designation is above the QKA designation since ASPPA requires additional course work beyond QKA to earn the QPA. My primary question is how do the various credentials compare with one another in terms of credibility? QPA vs. QKA vs APA vs APR vs CEBS? Are there any other comparable credentials? Which of them is recognized in the field as the most prestigious?

ASPPA:

QKA covers the basic/intermediate level of plan qualification, administrative and compliance.

QPA covers the advanced areas of compliance and administration.

CPC is intended to demonstrate an ability to draw from accumulated retirement plan knowledge and experience. You build upon a foundation of knowledge acquired by passing the examinations required for the QKA and QPA credentials. This exam will provide opportunities for analyzing and solving consulting problems that might be encountered in real-life client situations.

NIPA:

APA is the equivalent of a QKA and some topics covered in the QPA courses.

APR is only two exams, I think, and it is geared more toward a financial advisory path.

ERPA:

Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent is limited to representation with respect to issues involving the following programs: Employee Plans Determination Letter program; Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System; and Employee Plans Master and Prototype and Volume Submitter program. In addition, Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents are generally permitted to represent taxpayers with respect to IRS forms under the 5300 and 5500 series which are filed by retirement plans and plan sponsors, but not with respect to actuarial forms or schedules.

As far as prestige, the CPC is of course the most valuable; however, a combination of any of these designations illustrates your interest in the industry and usually a measure of your knowledge.

CEBS is on the health and welfare side of things with which I have no experience.

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Guest ERISA01142002
Wow - I did not know that the ERPA designation allows you to forego all the QPA exams?

I have my QPA...does that mean I can forego the ERPA exams? :lol:

(tongue in cheek)

I have all of these designations and I do not think that a QPA should be awarded with the ERPA exam. The material includes some DB info but nothing extensive. I took the DB exam required to receive your QPA, and it covers much more.

I think ASPPA included the QPA with the ERPA designation to attract more applicants.

Definitely not fair to the QPAs who took DC3 and DC4 to achieve that designation.

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I was "trying" to be funny...I took all of those exams to get my QPA and was rather shocked when I read the OP and saw that the ERPA allows them to be eligible to receive the QPA designation. I think they should have to take all of the exams that the rest of us did for QPA, just as I will have to take the ERPA exams to get that designation.

I'm not sure I follow your post entirely (i.e. the wording of your first sentence). It sounds as though you are saying that QPA's should not also automatically be awarded the ERPA designation but that you found the EPRA material was less comprehensive than the QPA material esp. with regard to the DB Plans.

In any event - I was just joking but being sarcastic that an ERPA can be awarded my designation but I cannot be awarded the ERPA designation....

all tongue in cheek as I noted in my original post :shades:

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Guest ERISA01142002
I was "trying" to be funny...I took all of those exams to get my QPA and was rather shocked when I read the OP and saw that the ERPA allows them to be eligible to receive the QPA designation. I think they should have to take all of the exams that the rest of us did for QPA, just as I will have to take the ERPA exams to get that designation.

I'm not sure I follow your post entirely (i.e. the wording of your first sentence). It sounds as though you are saying that QPA's should not also automatically be awarded the ERPA designation but that you found the EPRA material was less comprehensive than the QPA material esp. with regard to the DB Plans.

In any event - I was just joking but being sarcastic that an ERPA can be awarded my designation but I cannot be awarded the ERPA designation....

all tongue in cheek as I noted in my original post :shades:

I apologize, PMacduff - I wrote that quickly. I realize that you were being funny and I laughed to myself when I read it. Sorry for being so dry.

I honestly don't think that a QPA holder should be automatically awarded an ERPA because ERPA is designed to certify you for a different purpose. I just as strongly don't believe that ERPA holders should be awarded a QPA primarily because of the coverage of the DB material - or lack thereof.

I wouldn't have an issue with an ERPA being automatically awarded the QKA designation because the QKA is lower level.

Have a great holiday weekend.

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I was "trying" to be funny...I took all of those exams to get my QPA and was rather shocked when I read the OP and saw that the ERPA allows them to be eligible to receive the QPA designation. I think they should have to take all of the exams that the rest of us did for QPA, just as I will have to take the ERPA exams to get that designation.

I'm not sure I follow your post entirely (i.e. the wording of your first sentence). It sounds as though you are saying that QPA's should not also automatically be awarded the ERPA designation but that you found the EPRA material was less comprehensive than the QPA material esp. with regard to the DB Plans.

In any event - I was just joking but being sarcastic that an ERPA can be awarded my designation but I cannot be awarded the ERPA designation....

all tongue in cheek as I noted in my original post :shades:

I apologize, PMacduff - I wrote that quickly. I realize that you were being funny and I laughed to myself when I read it. Sorry for being so dry.

I honestly don't think that a QPA holder should be automatically awarded an ERPA because ERPA is designed to certify you for a different purpose. I just as strongly don't believe that ERPA holders should be awarded a QPA primarily because of the coverage of the DB material - or lack thereof.

I wouldn't have an issue with an ERPA being automatically awarded the QKA designation because the QKA is lower level.

Have a great holiday weekend.

I agreed that the ERPA designation should not automatically earn someone a QPA. I am furious that ASPPA has done that because it totally discounts the work of those of us who did pass the tests. In a few years one will need to ask every QPA if the earned it or not.

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I was "trying" to be funny...I took all of those exams to get my QPA and was rather shocked when I read the OP and saw that the ERPA allows them to be eligible to receive the QPA designation. I think they should have to take all of the exams that the rest of us did for QPA, just as I will have to take the ERPA exams to get that designation.

I apologize, PMacduff - I wrote that quickly. I realize that you were being funny and I laughed to myself when I read it. Sorry for being so dry.

I honestly don't think that a QPA holder should be automatically awarded an ERPA because ERPA is designed to certify you for a different purpose. I just as strongly don't believe that ERPA holders should be awarded a QPA primarily because of the coverage of the DB material - or lack thereof.

I wouldn't have an issue with an ERPA being automatically awarded the QKA designation because the QKA is lower level.

Have a great holiday weekend.

I agreed that the ERPA designation should not automatically earn someone a QPA. I am furious that ASPPA has done that because it totally discounts the work of those of us who did pass the tests. In a few years one will need to ask every QPA if the earned it or not.

Given the continuing education requirements for ERPA and QPA, and that most of ASPPA's QPA coursework is eligible for CE credit, I suspect that ERPA-QPAs will make-up any gap with CE in time. This may be ASPPA's way of bringing ERPAs into the fold so that they are encouraged to have comparable educational backgrounds.

Sorry about bringing up any contentious point. If it makes you feel better, I am also a licensed attorney, and I am proud of the work I put in to earn that.

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Agreed that giving away the QPA designation to ERPAs is silly. As a long time CPC/QPA/QKA and a recent ERPA, I can testify that the ERPA exams are a joke compared to the QPA exams, and not just on the DB side.

It's unfortunate, but now you'd probably have to ask someone when (or how) they obtained their designations when you interview them for open positions. Having taken and passed the CPC, QPA, and QKA, there are areas of competence that would be implied for candidates with the same credentials. Heck, even if we don't know the answers, we'll know where to look (or at least there's a question that should be asked). The ERPA material simply did not engage any thoughts on those levels. It appeared to be written at a level of a take-home test.

The key is that industry is always going to be divided into two groups: 1) those to study to learn, and by learning they are able to pass the tests to earn the designations; and 2) those to remember enough material to pass the test and earn a designation. You get enough people in group 2 that get the designation and stop learning will tarnish the credentials. I am a fan of anyone advancing their knowledge bases, but believe a free ride on the credential will make the community weaker.

A good thing is that we have these types of boards to exchange ideas. There are some heavy hitters here :)

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But the tests themselves have changed quite a bit as well. I got my QPA in 1991. You think it's the same test today? Of course not. But I don't "rank" people based on when they earned the designation.

I do. I am not saying that my approach is better, but I would like to see more depth of understanding from members who hold these designations. It is typically not there in recent designees; at least the ones I come across.

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Guest LLHarlow

I do. I am not saying that my approach is better, but I would like to see more depth of understanding from members who hold these designations. It is typically not there in recent designees; at least the ones I come across.

I purchased the DB study materials two years ago, I've completed the self study and haven't tested. I now need to sit for the ERPA exam and I'm stunned to find that the QPA is automatic with the ERPA designation. I almost feel cheated that I don't need to take the DB test. Almost. ;) The reality is that I know the DB materials and I'll be as good a CPC as any when I get there. I can, however, appreciate that those who got there the long way had their effort discounted by ASPPA in the interest of increasing study material and test income. They could have increased the cost of membership, the cost of study materials, the cost of tests, the cost of conferences or have staff members play the lottery on the organization's behalf.

Until administration of retirement plans commands similar compensation as the investment of the funds , nobody will be willing to pay $2,500 annually for their ASPPA membership. Perhaps we should all consider value added pricing such as 33% of the tax savings the contribution deduction renders. For every HCE in the Plan, the annual administration fee will be $6,295 ($54,500 x 35% max federal tax rate X 33%). I am willing to start every prospect meeting with "if I can get you $19,000 will you give me a third?". In the vernacular of my daughters, JK.

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A co-worker and I were talking about this last night. We were mostly talking about taking the ASPPA & EA tests, what was hard, how many times, etc.

I took the ERPA test in the late summer of 2009 and Feb 2010. to be honest, I was surprised that I passed both, as I felt they were difficult. I do not work with DB plans, hence the reason I never took the DB portion of ASPPA's exams to earn a QPA. Part of me was" I don't work with DB plans" and part of me was "some of those ASPPA tests were hard!" When they changed the testing in 2004, I decided to retake the last test to earn my QKA in Dec 2003. After months of studing those D*** permited desparity questions, I finally passed that test.

I had mixed feelings about ASPPA's decision to award the QPA (if you apply for it) when you pass & receive the ERPA. For someone like me to is one test (assuming it is still one, i don't pay much attention) away from the designation, well....but someone in our office who has NO designations, now has the QPA because he passed the ERPA. I didn't think that was right. Currently, we have 4 ERPAS in our small office and two of them have taken the ASPPA exams for QPA and CPC; I have the exams for QKA, and one who has no exams. I hope that if any of our clients look at the 4 of us for experience, they look at each differently, as we all have different experiences. If I was interviewing for another employement postion and the interviewer looked at my designations and felt it necessary to ask me about them, my asnwer on the QPA would be what I stated above.

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Doombuggy,

The key here is that you are cognizant of where you are in your level of understanding and what you may do in order to continue to enhance your knowledge base. This most intriguing thing about this industry is that you may study for 20 years and will only know half of what you need to know. For the other half, you may have some idea on where to look or how to approach a situation, even though you don't have the immediate answer. This is the attraction; for me at least.

This separates you from many who choose to meet the minimum requirement for the designations and then forget everything they've learned while making no attempts to learn more; not that there's anything wrong with that (to each his own). I think the universal issue for anyone holding the designation is that we want it to continue to mean something. I have often stated to clients (in situations where ASPPA credentialed members worked on plans) that the individual working on the plan was very skilled and likely accounted for everything that needed to be addressed (and was right). Now, my concern is that my assumptions may no longer be as automatic; which is something that I have to deal with.

Good Luck!

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Guest ERISA01142002
A co-worker and I were talking about this last night. We were mostly talking about taking the ASPPA & EA tests, what was hard, how many times, etc.

I took the ERPA test in the late summer of 2009 and Feb 2010. to be honest, I was surprised that I passed both, as I felt they were difficult. I do not work with DB plans, hence the reason I never took the DB portion of ASPPA's exams to earn a QPA. Part of me was" I don't work with DB plans" and part of me was "some of those ASPPA tests were hard!" When they changed the testing in 2004, I decided to retake the last test to earn my QKA in Dec 2003. After months of studing those D*** permited desparity questions, I finally passed that test.

I had mixed feelings about ASPPA's decision to award the QPA (if you apply for it) when you pass & receive the ERPA. For someone like me to is one test (assuming it is still one, i don't pay much attention) away from the designation, well....but someone in our office who has NO designations, now has the QPA because he passed the ERPA. I didn't think that was right. Currently, we have 4 ERPAS in our small office and two of them have taken the ASPPA exams for QPA and CPC; I have the exams for QKA, and one who has no exams. I hope that if any of our clients look at the 4 of us for experience, they look at each differently, as we all have different experiences. If I was interviewing for another employement postion and the interviewer looked at my designations and felt it necessary to ask me about them, my asnwer on the QPA would be what I stated above.

Just as a side note, if someone decides to go the ERPA route JUST to get a head start on the CPC, they'll have a surprise when they register. In order to receive your CPC, ASPPA requires you to take the DB exam even if you have received your QPA already (through ERPA). Now, if you have earned your QPA by taking the DC3 and DB exam, well then you of course simply go on to the modules and the essay exam.

We can at least be assured that if you are a CPC, you've gone through the necessary channels to get there.

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I come from corporate benefits administration and have earned both CEBS and SPHR, so sorry if I come off defensive at all w/ this but...

CEBS is on the health and welfare side of things with which I have no experience.

I'd correct that to: CEBS is a broad benefits certification that includes group insurance and compensation in addition to retirement plans. It generally serves a different different customer base that the other designations listed.

To the OP: You mention that you're an atty... If you intend to stay in the ERISA and benefits arena, then exposure to the knowledge contained in the CEBS could be useful. The three key areas of group, retirement and comp are all areas that require a competent atty to consult and advise.

So I would answer your question w/ a question: where do you want to go from here?

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Let's all take a deep breath, stop insulting each others' credentials, and remember why ERPA certification was needed by some of us.

I began working in the qualified plans arena 'way back in the TEFRA/DEFRA/REA era (yeah, I'm OLD), and suddenly about a dozen or so years ago the IRS no longer permitted me to be named on a Power of Attorney Form 2848 as a client's representative in either the determination letter or EPCRS application process. I was among the first group to take the ERPA exams and to be certified by the IRS as "Enrolled to Practice Before the Internal Revenue Service" with respect to retirement plan matters. There is no other credential currently available that would allow a non-actuary, non-attorney, non-CPA like me to deal with the IRS on behalf of a retirement plan client. Whether that is fair is not the question--it's just the unfortunate truth. Perhaps ASPPA's decision to allow application for the QPA credential to anyone who earned the ERPA certification was its way of proclaiming to the universe its belief that the IRS should have accepted the QPA credential for qualified plan representation purposes to begin with. And, after all, the QPA is not automatic after receiving the ERPA -- formal application, payment of a fee, and the written recommendation of several credentialled members of ASPPA are also required, plus ongoing ASPPA dues and continuing education responsibilities.

I for one did not consider the ERPA exams "a joke" -- and they contained many more defined benefit plan-related questions than anyone I spoke to (during the exam preparation phase) expected. Furthermore, as I recall, about half of the people who took either of those initial ERPA exams did not pass. (Remember--the "study guide" for the exams is a large portion of the 70-pound download of Mr. Sal Tripodi's brain!)

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Guest perplexedbypensions

This is a long thread, so sorry if I am repeating. Also don't mean in any way to insult anyone's credentials, knowledge or the time spent studying....

I currently have a CPC designation. I don't like that the QPA is automatically given upon passing the ERPA exams. This is spoken by someone who retook the DC2-DB exam twice since I was not familiar with DC Plans and 75 DB questions was a lot. My ERPA test had maybe 15 DB questions.

My company also financially rewards those who attain designations. I freely admit that I have a kindergarten mentality when it comes to fairness, but it might just bother me that a co-worker who will now have the QPA designation is getting the same bonus that I received when I passed, in addition to the bonus we will each get for passing ERPA. Seems like I worked a lot harder for that QPA bonus than they did.

I congratulate all who have passed the tests, and strongly encourage others to take the tests.

Boy, I feel better know having vented. Thank you.

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I look at ASPPA awarding a QPA designation to someone who has earned an ERPA designation the same way as ASPPA awarding the APM designation to members who are also attorneys.

When an attorney joins ASPPA, they are automatically awarded the APM designation. There is no ASPPA test to pass and earn the APM designation, so in our office APM is considered an honorary designation, not an earned designation. Once someone has the ASPPA APM designation, they are required to fulfill the ASPPA CE requirements. I know around our office that is an issue because attorneys are also required to complete CLE requirements for the State Bar, and not all ASPPA seminars are approved for CLE by our State Bar, so they are attending (and paying for) a lot of continuing ed to meet both the ASPPA requirements and the State Bar requirements each year. NIPA membership is more popular with the attorneys in our office because NIPA does not automatically award a credential to attorneys, so they can be an active NIPA member without meeting any requirements to complete NIPA CE each year just to maintain an honorary designation.

I understand ASPPA wanting to grant some type of honorary designation to ERPA members so ASPPA has a way to ensure that they attend CE every year to keep current and continue to learn. It is a shame that ASPPA did not come up with a new honorary designation for ERPAs, similar to the honorary APM designation awarded to attorneys. I think creating an honorary designation for ERPAs would have been better than creating two QPA sub-groups - those that took and passed the QPA exams and those that were awarded an honorary QPA designation by virtue of earning the ERPA designation.

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I'm just glad I can talk directly to the IRS agents now, instead of trying to explain the issues to my boss, an attorney who usually has only a little involvement/knowledge of the specifics of each plan.

Tests, CPE, experience, etc. - regardless of any of that, it all gets proven out where the rubber meets the road, or where the pencil meets the paper,... no - it's where the typewriter keys strike the paper? ... it's where the toner powder meets the fuser and the paper? (for those using paper), ... it's where the dots align on the screen? - (sigh) - you get the idea.

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I come from corporate benefits administration and have earned both CEBS and SPHR, so sorry if I come off defensive at all w/ this but...
CEBS is on the health and welfare side of things with which I have no experience.

I'd correct that to: CEBS is a broad benefits certification that includes group insurance and compensation in addition to retirement plans. It generally serves a different different customer base that the other designations listed.

To the OP: You mention that you're an atty... If you intend to stay in the ERISA and benefits arena, then exposure to the knowledge contained in the CEBS could be useful. The three key areas of group, retirement and comp are all areas that require a competent atty to consult and advise.

So I would answer your question w/ a question: where do you want to go from here?

masteff, my profession is in trust administration, and as the trust department manager, I have needed to broaden and deepen my understanding of DC plans for which my firm serves as trustee, and as administrator for our firm's plan. So, I am already where I want to be: developing and enhancing my depth of understanding of retirement plans. As I don't have a mentor, I affiliated with ERPA and QPA as a formal way to direct my efforts in that development. As I also help administer the firm's VEBA, I have taken an interest in CEBS too, but don't know that I can dedicate as much time to CE there at this point.

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  • 1 year later...

I earned the ERPA after the QPA. I am a bit resentful of the automatic granting of a QPA more so because the QPA and its entire series of examinations, IN MY OPINION, lends more credibility to a professional's understanding of practical plans experience than cramming for 2 exams to get a designation. I am currently studying for the proctered CPC exam in June.

As a side note, I work for a law firm. On many of our client's 2848s I am the 3rd representative behind 2 attorneys. I found out the hard way that the IRS only recognizes the first 2 representatives and will not speak directly with the 3rd. Insane that they even have a 3rd option.

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I took the first ERPA test last summer and just took the DB exam last month. I am glad I took the ERPA test first. Or, more accurately, I'm glad I took Derrin Watson's ERPA review class (from Sungard) first.

I found that the ERPA test went into more depth in some DB areas (415, permitted disparity, deductions) than did the ASPPA test. The ASPPA test goes into more depth regarding accrual of benefits and distributions. Neither test goes into funding.

I feel the ERPA test gave me a head start on the DB exam.

Plus, I needed to have the DB exam done as I plan on pursuing the CPC designation.

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