Education and Training Requirements
There are no specific postsecondary educational requirements for tax preparers, but having a high school diploma is helpful. Take mathematics classes. Accounting, bookkeeping, and business classes will also give a good introduction to working with numbers and show the importance of accurate work. In addition, take computer classes. You will need to be comfortable using computers, since much tax work is done using this tool. English classes will help with research, writing, and speaking skills—important communication skills to have when working with clients.
Once high school is completed, it may be possible to find a job as a tax preparer at a large tax-preparing firm. These firms, such as H&R Block, typically require their tax preparers to complete a training program in tax preparation. A college education can mean improved job prospects for tax preparers. Many universities offer individual courses and complete majors in the area of taxation. Another route is to earn a bachelor's degree or master's degree in business administration with a minor or concentration in taxation. Some universities offer master's degrees in taxation.
Other Education or Training
In addition to formal education, tax preparers must continue their professional education. Both federal and state tax laws are revised every year, and the tax preparer is obligated to thoroughly understand these new laws by January 1 of each year. Major tax reform legislation can increase this amount of study even further. One federal reform tax bill can take up thousands of pages, and this can mean up to 60 hours of extra study in a single month to fully understand all the intricacies and implications of the new laws. The National Association of Tax Professionals offers many live education events across the U.S., as well as webinars, online workshops, online training courses, and other continuing education opportunities. Past classes included “Introduction to Tax Preparation,” “Ethics,” and “Ins and Outs of Social Security Benefits.” Continuing education courses are also provided by the National Society of Tax Professionals and state and local tax associations. Additionally, tax service firms provide classes that explain tax preparation to both professionals and individual taxpayers.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Licensing requirements for tax preparers vary by state. They must meet the requirements for the state in which they plan to practice. In general, they must be 18 years of age and have a certain number of hours of formal education and instruction in the tax preparation field.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers an examination for tax preparers. Those who complete the test successfully are called enrolled agents and are entitled to legally represent any taxpayer in any type of audit before the IRS or state tax boards. Those with prior experience working for the IRS as an auditor or in a higher position may also become enrolled agents without taking the exam. There are no education or experience requirements for taking the examination, but the questions are roughly equivalent to those asked in a college course. Study materials and applications may be obtained from local IRS offices. The IRS does not oversee seasonal tax preparers but local IRS offices may monitor some commercial tax offices.
The Institute of Tax Consultants offers a certification program and the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation offers the accredited tax preparer, accredited tax advisor, and other credentials.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Several years of prior experience at a tax preparation firm is helpful. Tax preparers should have an aptitude for math and an eye for detail. They should have strong organizational skills and the patience to sift through documents and financial statements. The ability to communicate effectively with clients is also key to be able to explain complex tax procedures and to make customers feel confident and comfortable. Tax preparers also need to work well under the stress and pressure of deadlines. They must be honest, discreet, and trustworthy in dealing with the financial and business affairs of their clients.