Tax preparers fill out income tax returns for individuals and small businesses. They interview clients and review their financial records in order to correctly assess their tax bill or refund.
Tax preparers use gross-income adjustments, deductions and credits when applicable to reduce the amount owed by the client. They verify all calculations and assure compliance with all relevant federal, state and local tax laws.
Duties and responsibilities
- Review financial records such as income, expenditures and investments documentation
- Interview clients to gather additional information about taxable income and deductible expenses
- Prepare or assist in preparing income tax returns for individuals and small businesses
- Utilise government tax tables and instructions to calculate the taxes owed or overpaid by clients
- Use all appropriate gross-income adjustments, deductions and credits to reduce amount client owes
- Consult tax law handbooks and bulletins when needed for atypical returns
- Answer client questions, and advise on best procedures for current tax forms and future tax planning
- Review all calculations and assure compliance with relevant federal, state and local tax laws
- Evaluate tax forms prepared by others for errors or missed opportunities for deductions and credits
- File tax forms by mail or e-file to state and federal revenue services
- Calculate form preparation fees according to complexity and time needed to complete the work
- Educate individuals and businesses on federal and state tax laws
Skills and knowledge
AVERAGE WORKING HOURS
Some nights and weekends
Most tax preparers work full time in an office environment. Overtime is likely during tax season. You may work evening and weekend hours to accommodate clients. Some freelancers travel to clients’ residences or businesses to consult on tax matters and collect financial records.
Seasonal work is available at the beginning of every year for tax preparers looking for a temporary or side gig. Part-time or full-time hours are possible, typically for a four-month duration from January through April.
Tax preparation requires long hours sitting at a computer. Dealing with complex returns, anxious clients and filing deadlines can be stressful.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Tax preparation does not require a degree, but preparers usually take coursework in business and tax-related subjects. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer certification programmes that can be completed in as little as six months. Some tax preparers go on to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires tax preparers to register annually and obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). They also offer 15 to 18 hours of continuing education and testing for an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion. Tax preparers who earn this certification get entered into a public database and are granted limited client representation rights.
Tax preparers can also be licensed by the IRS. You must pass a 3-part exam and complete 72 hours of continuing education every 3 years. Licensed tax preparers receive the Enrolled Agent designation and can represent clients during audits, payment/collection issues and appeals. Check with your state’s revenue service for any additional education or licensing requirements.
While you can receive on-the-job training, pursuing a certification or degree in a tax-related field helps you land better jobs. Gaining experience and a roster of satisfied clients can help you progress to roles with more responsibility. You may choose to start your own tax preparation service to have more control over your income potential.
Earning a licence from the IRS increases the tax service options you can offer. Some tax preparers also earn an accounting degree and certification, further expanding their job options and potential client base.