Professional Tax Preparer: Educational Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a tax preparer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and skills required to find out if this is the career for you.

Nothing is certain except death and taxes, or so the saying goes. A tax preparer can learn his or her trade on the job with only a high school diploma, but some employers prefer to hire people with a college certificate or other postsecondary training. You'll need to register with the IRS, which will soon involve passing a competency exam and completing continuing education courses.

Essential Information

Tax preparers calculate, file and sign income tax returns on behalf of individuals and businesses. They can also represent taxpayers during IRS examinations of tax returns. A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required for this job. Tax preparers can complete training programs or be trained on the job. Registration with the IRS and continuing education are also often required. Professional certification is also an option for experienced tax preparers.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent typically required
Other Requirements Training usually necessary, IRS registration and continuing education often required, certification is optional for experienced preparers
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2%
Median Salary (2015)* $36,450

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Education Overview

There are no strict educational requirements to become a tax preparer, though one must typically hold a high school diploma or its equivalent. Some employers may provide on-the-job training. Others may prefer individuals with some postsecondary training. Community colleges and universities offer certificate courses that can qualify individuals for entry-level jobs. Professional organizations such as the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT) and the National Association of Tax Professionals also offer training programs.

Certificate coursework typically covers topics such as filing status, exemptions, taxpayer interviews, refund calculation and tax schedules. Institutions may offer different programs based on types of returns. Some basic courses provide training for individual taxpayers. More advanced courses may cover subjects like corporate taxes, payroll taxes, estate taxes, capital gains and retirement plans.

Registration Requirements

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires registration for all paid tax preparers. Tax preparation professionals must obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and include it on all returns they sign. Preparers who don't sign tax returns and are supervised by a certified public accountant, attorney or enrolled agent are exempt from this regulation.

The IRS announced it would require qualifying scores on a competency test to obtain a PTIN. Professional tax preparers will also be required to take continuing education courses.

Certification Overview

Voluntary certification from the ACAT is not required, but demonstrates a tax preparer's expertise in tax codes and regulations, which may increase employment opportunities. Professionals can earn the Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP) credential by passing the ATP examination.

Tax preparers must have at least three years of experience to be eligible to sit for the examination. ACAT considers one tax season, lasting from January to April, to be the equivalent of a year of experience. They also allow college credit to account for up to two years of experience.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2014 that there were 90,400 tax preparer jobs in the country. Tax preparers earned $36,450 as a median annual wage in 2015.

Whether you choose to learn as you work or complete a certificate first, you should be prepared to meet the IRS registration requirements. As you progress in your career, you can earn professional certification, which may help you access more advanced jobs and promotions.

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