Tax Professionals: Employment & Career Info

Tax professionals or examiners either prepare or review business and individual tax returns for accuracy and compliance with federal or state laws. Read about the degree requirements, employment outlook and earnings potential for tax professionals, and make an informed decision about your future career.

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Career Definition fot Tax Professionals

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes three types of tax professionals, including enrolled agents, certified public accountants (CPAs), and tax attorneys (www.irs.gov). Tax professionals also include tax examiners and revenue agents who audit returns, either in person or remotely, and are usually employed on a full-time basis at the federal level or by local and state governments.

Responsibilities vary according to employer and title. For example, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and tax attorneys may prepare annual returns and documents for individuals, corporations, and small businesses, as well as for the purposes of estates, gifts, and trusts. Tax attorneys in particular can help companies and individuals understand revenue laws as they apply to assets, income, and profits.

At the IRS, simple federal returns are typically reviewed by tax examiners; corporate and large business returns usually fall under the jurisdiction of revenue agents. Collectors or revenue officers are also employed by the BLS and are responsible for obtaining overdue payments from taxpayers. Enrolled agents act as taxpayer advocates before the IRS.

Education Bachelor's or master's in accounting or related field
Job Duties Varies by position; collect tax payments, prepare statements, assist with tax law
Median Salary (2015) $36,450 (tax preparers)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2% (tax preparers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A bachelor's or master's degree in accounting or other closely related area is the minimum requirement for becoming a CPA; candidates must also pass a national qualifying exam and obtain a state-issued license. Completion of a Juris Doctor program that has been approved by the American Bar Association and a passing score on a state bar exam are the usual requirements for practicing as a tax attorney.

Tax examiners and revenue agents employed by the BLS typically hold a bachelor's degree in accounting, auditing, business, or economics and have one more or years of relevant experience as required for their positions. Enrolled agents must have prior experience working for the IRS or pass a comprehensive exam.

According to the National Association of Tax Professionals, tax professionals must attend continuing education classes and keep their knowledge of tax codes and laws up to date (www.natptax.com).

Skills Required

The field of tax preparation requires high ethical standards and a commitment to fulfilling clients' needs while upholding the law. In explaining tax regulations and requirements to clients, tax professionals must demonstrate excellent communication skills. An analytical and precise approach to documentation is also essential.

Employment and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that tax preparers had a median annual income of $36,450 in May 2015; tax examiners, tax collectors, and revenue agents earned $51,430 during the same month. The BLS has predicted that tax examiners, agents, and collectors will see a 6% decline in job openings between 2014 and 2024, while tax preparers may see a 2% increase in employment opportunities. Attorneys, who earned median annual wages of $115,820 in May 2015, can expect a fast-as-average growth in employment of 6% from 2014 to 2024 (bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Similar career options in this field include:

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors usually hold a bachelor's or a master's degree in accounting or business. Areas of specialization can include information technology or internal auditing, cost accounting or public accounting. Licensure is required for accountants who submit documentation to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In May 2015, the median annual income for an accountant or auditor in general was $67,190. Between 2014 and 2024, employment opportunities for accountants and auditors were expected to grow by a faster-than-average rate of 11%, as reported by the BLS (www.bls.gov).

Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks can be found in nearly every occupational field and industry, and their responsibilities include recording and reviewing financial documents and transactions. Entry-level candidates are usually high school graduates who are proficient in math and the use of computer technology. Most clerks train on the job; relevant college coursework and an understanding of bookkeeping software may aid in landing a job.

As reported by the BLS, bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks had a median annual income of $37,250 in May 2015 and can expect an 8% decline in jobs from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov).

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