How to Become a Tax Accountant

Updated October 3, 2022 · 6 Min Read

How do tax accountants get their jobs? Learn how to become a tax accountant, including education, credentials, and continuing education.

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A tax accountant helps individuals and businesses prepare and file tax returns. They work to help clients increase their tax savings. They also ensure tax filings are accurate and legally compliant.

Good tax accountants are detail-oriented with strong problem-solving and math skills. Communication with clients is also a crucial skill. To learn more about what it takes to succeed in this career, check out our tax accountant career overview guide.

To become a tax accountant, people must satisfy multiple stipulations, including educational requirements and passing the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Read on for more in-depth information about how to become a tax accountant.

Steps on the Tax Accountant Career Path

Starting a tax accountant career begins with education. Tax accountants typically earn CPA licensure, which usually requires a bachelor's degree in an accounting-related field. A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete.

Though not required for most tax accountant jobs, CPA candidates may attend a master's in accounting program. These degrees help students prepare for the CPA exam and can lead to advanced career opportunities. A master's program in accounting often takes 1-2 years of full-time study.

After completing their degrees, accountants can take the CPA exam to earn licensure. Some professionals also pursue certifications to work in specialized tax-related subfields. For example, tax accountants can also become enrolled agents (EAs), which allows them to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Tax accountant credentials like CPA licensure often require continuing education (CE) courses for professionals to maintain their credentials. CE requirements vary by state. In general, CPAs need a minimum of 120 hours of coursework over a three-year period to keep their licenses. For a credential like an EA, tax accountants will have to complete a minimum of 72 educational hours every three years to maintain their licensure.

Steps to becoming a tax accountant typically include:

  1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree: In most states, earning a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for earning CPA licensure.
  2. Consider Enrolling in a Master's Program: While a master's degree is not required for most tax accountant jobs, many master's programs in accounting are designed to prepare students for the CPA exam.
  3. Pass the CPA Exam: To earn CPA licensure, accountants must pass the CPA exam.
  4. Consider Earning Additional Certifications: Tax accountants can obtain additional certifications that qualify them to work in accounting subfields.
  5. Maintain Licensure with Continuing Education: Tax accountants must pursue continuing education classes to maintain their licenses.
  6. Tax Accountant Education Requirements

    Tax accountant education requirements usually include earning a bachelor's degree. Most states require a four-year degree as part of the CPA certification process. However, every state also requires students to earn at least 150 semester hours before they can sit for the CPA exam, though most bachelor's degrees only require 120 credits. Often, prospective accountants pursue additional courses or earn a master's degree to meet the 150-credit requirement.

    Students usually major in accounting or related fields, such as finance or economics. Learners should consider taking courses about the U.S. tax system — like taxation procedures for individuals or tax law — to help prepare them for the CPA exam and their future careers.

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    Required Credentials for Tax Accountants

    Tax accountants who pursue CPA licensure usually take about seven years to complete the necessary education and job experience requirements. The CPA certification process varies by state. However, general requirements candidates can expect to meet include:

    • 150 semester hours of education
    • Completion of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA)-administered CPA exam
    • 1-2 years of public accounting experience

    Additionally, certain states may require candidates to be U.S. citizens, reside in the state where they intend to practice tax accounting, have a Social Security number, or pass an additional ethics exam.

    Furthermore, certified tax accountants must regularly complete CE courses to maintain their credentials. These requirements vary between state licensing boards. In general, licensed tax accountants must complete at least 120 hours of CE coursework every three years to maintain CPA licensure.

    Optional Certifications and Degrees

    Accounting master's programs are an option for students looking to earn a more advanced credential while satisfying educational requirements for the CPA exam. A master's degree can lead to more job opportunities, leadership positions, and higher earning potential.

    According to Payscale data from June 2022, the average base salary for someone with a bachelor's degree in accounting is $67,000. In contrast, Payscale reports that the average base salary for a person with a master's degree in accounting is $75,000 as of June 2022.

    Tax accountants can pursue several other certifications that demonstrate their expertise in specialized areas of tax accounting. These certifications can lead to higher-paying or more advanced career opportunities.

    Tax-related certifications include:

    • Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP): The ATP credential certifies expertise in the tax code and how to prepare individual tax returns.
    • Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA): The ATA credential certifies expertise in the tax planning process.
    • Enrolled Agent (EA): The EA credential certifies that a person can represent a client before the IRS.

    Like CPA certification, these credentials may require candidates to meet educational prerequisites, have job experience in a tax-related field, or pass an exam.

    Required Experience for a Tax Accountant

    Most states require 1-2 years of public accounting experience to qualify for the CPA certification. Candidates can get this experience in a number of ways: Prospective CPAs can work accounting jobs that do not require a CPA license. For example, jobs like staff accountant or accounts payable specialist often do not require CPA licensure, so CPA candidates can gain public accounting experience in these roles.

    Candidates may also complete an internship with a licensed CPA to gain real-world experience. Some states allow experience in non-accounting fields — like business, industry, or government — to fulfill the CPA experience requirement.

    Should I Become a Tax Accountant?

    When planning how to be a tax accountant, consider the multiple career options available for these professionals. For instance, tax accountants can help individuals prepare tax returns or set up trusts. They can also work in the business sector as tax auditors or consultants. Tax accountants can even work in government, including for the IRS.

    The job outlook for tax accountants is positive: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects accountant and auditor jobs to grow 7% between 2020 and 2030. BLS salary data shows the median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $77,250 per year as of 2021 — about $19,000 more than the median annual salary for all occupations.

    Though the field offers higher-than-average salaries and positive job growth projections, prospective professionals should remember becoming a tax accountant often takes up to seven years of education and work experience — a significant time commitment. Since tax codes change annually, tax accountants must pursue continuing education courses to maintain their certifications and update their knowledge.

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    The Job Hunt

    To find a job in the tax accounting field, candidates can visit job fairs in the community or at their college or university. Mentors and professors can also connect candidates with potential employers. Membership in professional organizations, like AICPA, can help candidates network with other professionals to find opportunities.

    Job seekers can also use online accounting job boards. Some top accounting job boards for tax accountants include:

    • AICPA Job Board: This board lists open jobs in finance and business management. Users can filter listings by role, salary, and location. This site also includes internship opportunities.
    • American Accounting Association Job Board: This site regularly posts job opportunities, including international jobs, open to CPAs. Applicants have to create an account to see the complete job list.
    • iHireAccounting Job Board: Users can search this site by job title, including "tax specialist" and "tax analyst." Additionally, iHireAccounting shows applicants data about trending educational requirements and certifications for open jobs.
    • Indeed.com: Candidates can search for accounting jobs on Indeed. They can also apply directly through Indeed's application portal once they upload their resume.

    Upward Mobility on the Tax Accountant Career Path

    The tax accountant career path allows people to explore multiple job opportunities. Here are two examples of potential advanced or specialized careers for tax accountants.

    Senior Tax Auditor

    • Responsibilities: Tax auditors are experts in tax law. They evaluate financial records of businesses and individuals to ensure legal compliance. Daily responsibilities often include checking financial records for evidence of fraud and reviewing financial reports to ensure they align with federal and state laws.
    • Education: Along with a bachelor's degree and a CPA license, auditors may also earn additional certifications. Common credentials for senior tax auditors include certified internal auditor (CIA) or certified information systems auditor (CISA).
    • Salary: According to the BLS, the median annual salary for auditors is $77,250 as of 2021. Average salaries for senior-level roles are often higher than salaries for junior-level roles.

    Forensic Accountant

    • Responsibilities: Forensic accountants investigate potentially illegal activity like embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering. While forensic accountants deal with taxes, their responsibilities require them to look into every financial aspect of a business or individual. Daily tasks typically include providing legal testimony and looking into public records to track financial activities.
    • Education: Forensic accountants are CPAs, which means most have a bachelor's or master's degree in accounting. Additionally, many of these professionals earn a certified forensic accountant (CFA) certificate or a certified in financial forensics (CFF) credential.
    • Salary: According to Payscale, the average annual salary for forensic accountants is $70,560 as of June 2022.

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    Questions on How to Be a Tax Accountant

    What degree do you need to become a tax accountant?

    Most tax accountants need a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field like finance and economics. Professionals can also pursue a master's degree in accounting, though this is usually optional.

    What skills do you need to be a tax accountant?

    Tax accountants need to be detail-oriented, as their jobs require accuracy when filing tax returns. Additionally, tax accountants should have good problem-solving skills so they can help clients maximize their tax savings.

    How long does it take to start a tax accountant career?

    It typically takes up to seven years to become a tax accountant with a CPA license. This includes earning a bachelor's degree, passing the CPA exam, and meeting the additional education and experience requirements for CPA licensure.

    What certifications do you need along the tax accountant career path?

    Candidates can earn CPA certification on their journey to a tax accountant career. Additional credentials can demonstrate professionals' expertise in tax subfields, For example, someone who wants to help individuals and companies create tax plans may earn an ATP certification.

    Are tax accountants in demand?

    According to the BLS, accountant and auditor jobs will increase 7% between 2020 and 2030, on par with national growth projections for all jobs.

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