Tax accountants play an important role in the financial community, particularly for business owners. Tax accountants prepare tax returns for individuals or organizations, and help clients ensure they correctly complete all relevant tax documents. In fact, the accounting field is expected to grow faster than the average career at a 6% growth rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Joining this lucrative career means opening the door to several new opportunities and a rewarding way to earn a living. Below we offer more information about how to become a tax accountant, the skills accountants need to succeed, and some helpful career resources.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Tax Accountant?
Becoming a tax accountant requires hard work in school, but the skills you build can benefit you in numerous ways beyond the accounting field. In fact, most successful tax accountants improve their skills over time, meaning their learning doesn't stop after graduating from an undergraduate program.
A successful tax accountant must possess several key skills. While it helps to already have these skills before beginning an undergraduate accounting program, you can also develop these while in school. Some of these are learned from lectures and coursework, while others are a result of your work ethic and study habits.
Tax accountants must possess strong math skills, as their daily tasks require substantial time looking at numbers and trying to frame them in ways to best help their clients. Problem-solving skills complement mathematics, as they help tax accountants deliver a better product. Often, clients may have complicated tax forms, multiple W2s, or may need assistance with tax write-offs. Tax accountants must use this information to strategize the best outcome for their client.
Good communication skills also play a vital role for tax accountants, as they must clearly communicate complex information to clients in a way they can understand. Good time management skills are also crucial; relaying information and finishing taxes on time allows you to maintain a positive relationship with your clients and increases the chance of them recommending you to others.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Tax Accountant?
There are multiple steps one must take to become a tax accountant, but they can lead to a rewarding career with many opportunities. Although everyone follows a different path, all tax accountants must meet certain requirements.
First, you must complete a bachelor's program in accounting by attending an accredited university that offers this program. Researching schools with accounting programs sets you up to receive a quality education. Pay attention to other features that fit your needs, such as online programs, accelerated programs, night classes, as well as useful student resources. Most students complete their degrees in 4-5 years, but this varies by school and student.
Some students continue their education beyond a bachelor's degree, which can set them apart from other professionals and open the door to more career opportunities; however, with the tax accounting field experiencing steady job growth, you may find numerous jobs available to you without earning a master's degree. A master's degree typically adds two years to one's time in school.
Once you complete an undergraduate program, you may apply to become a certified public accountant (CPA). CPAs receive official accreditation as part of a professional body of accountants. Receiving CPA licensure expands your job pool, creates opportunities for higher pay, and allows you to become a more skilled accountant. Although the required coursework for this certification often takes little time, keep in mind that a master's degree often includes some required coursework, meaning it may take more time if you only hold a bachelor's degree.
This process culminates in a CPA examination. Once you complete the requirements, contact the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and apply to take the exam. You can schedule the exam at an available time that works for you. Keep in mind that the exam only takes place at specific testing centers across the United States, so you may have to factor in travel time.
The AICPA provides several helpful study tools for this examination. Visitors on their website find exam blueprints and information on each section's structure. Scoring a 75 minimum on each section within 18 months allows test-takers to pass their CPA.
This process builds one's skills and credibility for accounting. Although some people enjoy careers after just 4-5 years of preparation, it can take between 6-7 years of education and exams to get the most out of what this field has to offer.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Tax Accountant?
Despite a fast-growing job market in this field, earning a degree does not guarantee a job. Tax accountants must achieve a certain education level to practice, as well as complete numerous additional steps before they can begin their career as a tax accountant. In the section below, we offer more details about the education you must complete to begin your career.
Tax accountants must undergo additional training to their undergraduate degree. Receiving an undergraduate degree in accounting is the minimum requirement for tax professionals, and some employers require education beyond a traditional bachelor's in accounting.
Some degrees allow students to focus on concentrations that prepare them for specific careers. Students may be able to specialize in corporate accounting, public accounting, internal auditing, taxes, or managerial accounting.
Receiving an undergraduate degree in accounting is the minimum requirement for tax professionals, and some employers require education beyond a traditional bachelor's in accounting.
Upon completing their bachelor's, accounting students often obtain a CPA as their next step; however, there are more options available depending on what you wish to do. Some students pass internal auditor (IA) training to work with organizations to assess their financial practices. The chartered financial analyst (CFA) credential also remains a top choice among tax accountants. The CFA prepares you to analyze investments and manage investment portfolios. Keep in mind that this credential requires 48 months of professional investment experience.
Some professionals may also work as standard accountants; these professionals practice without additional licensure and perform limited duties. If you're unsure about whether to make accounting a long-term career, this may be a good option.
There are countless paths available for tax accountants depending on their career aspirations. No matter what steps you follow, there are more educational opportunities to propel your career forward.
Tax Accountant Career Development and Credentials
Obtaining additional credentials and seeking higher education bolsters your opportunities for ideal jobs. Although many jobs exist that don't require these additional steps, when put against other job candidates, they may help secure the position for you. Read below to find out more about additional certifications, education, and licensing.
Certifications and Continuing Education
Many organizations offer courses or certifications to enhance your abilities and help you stand out as an ideal candidate for employers. Many employers seek applicants who hold certification as public accountants, making this the most common certification for this field. However, tax accountants can broaden their horizons with other certifications as well. The following list contains common certifications or continuing education courses for tax accountants.
Certified Bookkeeper: Offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers, CB training instructs professionals on the best practices for maintaining and organizing records of a business's financial activities.
Internal Auditor: Businesses require an expert to examine the internal workings of their financial practices and assess their quality. IA certification prepares financial professionals to skillfully perform this task.
Michigan State University Two-Day Tax Seminar: Although there are many similar continuing education opportunities, this popular training seminar is a good representation of what is available. For two days, students examine the latest updates and news in the tax world, as well as the laws and ethics surrounding it.
Credentials and Licensing
Some careers require specific credentials or licensure; the following examples prepare professionals for specific careers in the tax accounting field.
Enrolled Agent: Becoming an EA takes substantial time, but it can result in a satisfying and lucrative career. EAs receive federal authorization by the United States Department of Treasury to represent taxpayers before the IRS. After completing their required three-year training, they must earn 72 hours of continued education every three years to maintain their license.
Tax Attorneys: Tax attorneys receive licensure from their state upon course completion and passing the bar exam. These professionals may prepare tax returns, and prepare a legal defense for clients involved in tax-related cases.
Learn More about Tax Accounting and Take the Next Step Today
American Association of Finance and Accounting
The American Association of Finance and Accounting is dedicated to staffing finance workers. With a helpful job board and offices all over the United States, this organization features multiple opportunities to advance your career.
Latino Tax Pro
This organization is dedicated to serving the Latino community's tax professionals and payers through training and professional development events. The organization recruits and educates tax professionals to offer services in both English and Spanish, and provides quality service to a broader clientele.
National Association of Tax Professionals
By joining this community of over 23,000 tax professionals, members receive all the latest news and findings in the field. In addition, the classified ads feature provides members job postings from around the country.
National Society for Accountants
Although the NSA offers some benefits to non-members for free or at a small cost, members enjoy many exclusive benefits. Accountants that join this national organization receive educational publications each month, access to community boards and help forums, as well as regular professional development events.
Young CPA Network
Connecting with other young and emerging professionals can energize your education or career. This organization creates networking opportunities for young or aspiring CPAs all over the country.