Becoming a Tax Preparer: Job Description, Certification & Salary Info

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Tax preparers earn a median salary of about $35,990. Is this worth the education and training requirements? Learn the truth by reading job postings from real employers to find out if becoming a tax preparer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Tax Preparer

Tax preparers assist businesses, individuals, and other organizations file their taxes each year. The following is a list of more pros and cons that can help you decide whether or not working as a tax preparer is right for you:

Pros of Becoming a Tax Preparer
Most jobs require no experience*
On-the-job training usually provided*
Can get job with a high school diploma*
Opportunity to earn supplemental income with little start-up cost*

Cons of Becoming a Tax Preparer
Most positions are seasonal*
Preparing complex tax documents can be demanding*
Limited job prospects in similar occupations (8%-14% expected job growth from 2012-2022)**

Sources: *Job listings from employers in November 2012, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Info

As a tax preparer, you will be responsible for preparing individual and/or business tax returns. In order to gather pertinent information needed to make accurate calculations, you will spend time communicating with customers through face-to-face, telephone or online conversations. You may interview clients on topics such as expenses, investments, home repairs, changes in career, retirement and significant life events. By obtaining information in these areas, you are better able to find deductions and credits for your clients. In this position, you will examine several types of financial and tax documents. Some common documents you may examine include interest, dividends and wage statements, previous tax returns and property tax documents. You may also be required to conduct research to find information on tax laws and regulations.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

As of May 2014, the BLS reported that tax preparers earned a median salary of approximately $35,990. The BLS did not have job outlook statistics specifically for tax preparers. However, O*Net OnLine predicted an average growth of 8%-14% percent for the period of 2012-2022.

It should be noted that although tax examiners handle individual tax returns, the education required for this position is different from that of tax preparers. For instance, tax examiners are required to have a bachelor's degree in accounting or other related field, while tax preparers are not required to have a degree.

What Are Employers Looking For?

According to job postings, most employers are looking for tax preparers to fill seasonal positions. Most of these seasonal positions require no experience. As a seasonal employee, you will most likely receive on-the-job training by participating in a class covering basic tax topics. For positions that require previous tax training, the number of years of experience required will vary based upon the level of responsibilities.

In addition, employers looking for experienced preparers usually require that these candidates have a degree in a related field. Typically, you will be required to have more years of work experience with an associate's degree and less work experience with a bachelor's degree. For a position that requires extensive knowledge, you may need to have a relevant certification or Certified Public Account (CPA) license. Employers may also request that you have a personal tax identification number (PTIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Job Postings from Real Employers

Job postings revealed that seasonal tax preparers are in high demand. Most employers also offer training classes. However, job postings did not reflect any minimum years of training needed for positions that require experience. Additionally, employers tend to look for candidates who've completed a related degree program to fill positions for experienced tax preparers. Below is a list of job postings for November 2012 that can give you some insight into what real employers were looking for during this time.

  • A California staffing company is looking for candidates to fill positions for seasonal tax preparers. Candidates are required to complete a basic tax class, which requires no previous experience.
  • An accounting services company in Ohio is seeking experienced tax preparers for seasonal positions. The employer is looking for someone with a high school diploma who has experience doing high-volume tax preparation and has knowledge of tax rules and regulations, as well as an active PTIN.
  • A tax services company in Texas wants to hire preparers for part-time and seasonal positions. Candidates are not required to have any experience and can receive on-the-job training through a basic tax class; a fee for training materials is required.
  • A recruiting firm in Phoenix, AZ, is seeking experienced candidates for seasonal positions. Candidates must have at least two years of experience with a public accounting company and a bachelor's degree, preferably in accounting or finance. The candidate will be responsible for preparing, individual, corporate and other business tax returns.
  • A retirement planning company in Wisconsin is looking for a tax preparer with seven years of experience and an associate's degree in accounting. The employer also requests a candidate who has an enrolled agent certification or CPA license. Job duties include completing individual and business tax returns, conducting audits and selling retirement products.

How to Stand Out

Since most employers do not require previous experience, you can stand out by training through a certificate or degree program. Many community colleges offer certificate programs in tax preparation. Courses typically cover basic, intermediate and advanced tax preparation. Other relevant courses you may study include computerized accounting, financial accounting, business law and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. To further improve your job prospects, you can complete an associate's or bachelor's program in accounting or finance. If you already have a bachelor's degree, you might also consider completing a graduate certificate program in taxation.

Other Careers to Consider

Bookkeeper

If you have strong analytical and organization skills, you might consider putting those skills to use as a bookkeeper. In this position, you will be responsible for maintaining financial records, inputting data into spreadsheets to generate reports and ensuring that all transactions are reported accurately and stored in an easily accessible manner.

Typically, a high school diploma and on-the-job training are the basic requirements necessary to work as a bookkeeper. The BLS reported in 2011 that the median wage earned by bookkeepers, including accounting and auditing clerks, was approximately $35,000, and these professionals were expected to see a 14% increase in employment from 2010-2020.

Accountant

If you like working with numbers and want to take your career to the next level, becoming an accountant may be ideal for you. Most employers require that you have at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or another related major. If your job duties include filing reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, then you will be required to pass a CPA exam for your designated state.

Some of your responsibilities as an account may include preparing and examining tax returns, determining taxes owed and ensuring scheduled payments are received. The BLS projected a 16% employment growth for accountants and auditors from 2010-2020, and in May 2011, these professionals earned a median salary of about $63,000.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration: Taxation
      • Master of Science in Taxation
      • Master of Science in Accounting
      • Master of Business Administration: Interdisciplinary Business
  • Online Programs Available
    2. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Georgetown University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Finance
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting & Healthcare Mgmt.
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      • Bachelor: Accounting
      • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration
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      • Associate of Science - Accounting
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      • Diploma: Bookkeeping and Payroll Accounting
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    5. Grand Canyon University

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      • DBA - Management
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      • MBA - Accounting
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  • Online Programs Available
    7. University of Delaware

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      • Master of Business Administration - Finance
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    9. Keiser University

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      • M.S. - Internet Marketing
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Featured Schools

Saint John's University

  • Master of Business Administration: Taxation
  • Master of Science in Taxation
  • Master of Science in Accounting

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George Mason University

  • Master of Business Administration

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Georgetown University

  • Master of Science in Finance

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Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting & Healthcare Mgmt.
  • Bachelor: Accounting
  • Associate of Science - Accounting
  • Diploma: Bookkeeping and Payroll Accounting

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • DBA - Management
  • MBA: Accounting
  • BS in Accounting

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The University of Scranton

  • MBA - Accounting
  • Master of Accountancy
  • Master of Science in Finance

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University of Delaware

  • Master of Business Administration - Finance
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration - Custom/General

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Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
  • PhD in Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
  • MBA - Financial Management
  • Master of Science in Accounting

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