How to Become a Tax Consultant

Updated September 29, 2022

Want to know how long it takes to become a tax consultant? Read this guide to learn the education, experience, and certifications required for this career.

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Tax consultants are strategy specialists who help individuals and businesses plan their financial activities. Much of their work focuses on reducing their clients' tax burdens while conforming to all applicable tax laws.

Successful tax consultants combine a complete knowledge of federal, state, and local tax laws with creativity and problem-solving skills. Since tax regulations constantly change, consultants must also commit to career-long learning and development.

This guide explains how to become a tax consultant. Use these direct and indirect career paths to plan your education, credentialing, and job search preparation.

Steps for How to Become a Tax Strategist

The Direct Path

  1. Earn your degrees: Studying taxation in college offers a direct route to a career in tax strategy. In the United States, college programs in taxation typically appear at the master's level, but undergrad accounting majors and law students can concentrate their learning on taxation in bachelor's programs.
  2. Gain practical experience: Professional organizations that offer tax advisor certifications often require multiple years of workplace experience. This experience should specifically focus on tax consulting, strategy, and planning.
  3. Obtain certification: Upon meeting the eligibility requirements, take the necessary exams to become certified as a tax advisor. Reputable professional organizations offer these certifications. You can also pursue enrolled agent status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
  4. Seek tax consulting jobs: Certification and enrolled agent credentials may help you land your first official job in tax planning. You can then work your way up from entry-level roles into positions with more responsibility.

The Indirect Path

  1. Launch a related career: Some professionals migrate into tax advisory roles after building successful careers in related areas. For instance, you may work as a certified public accountant (CPA) or tax attorney before pivoting into tax consulting.
  2. Build real-world expertise: Boost your credibility as a tax advisor by specializing in taxation while pursuing your original career path.
  3. Plan your transition: Research the job market to explore consulting opportunities for candidates with your current qualifications. If necessary, review your credentialing options and create a strategy for attracting prospective clients.
  4. Begin your new career: Make the switch from your current career to a new role as a tax consultant. You can launch your own practice or join a firm that provides tax consulting services on a contract basis.

Required Education for a Tax Consultant

When thinking about how to become a tax strategist, remember that there is no single set path. Tax advisors come from varied academic and professional backgrounds. However, these backgrounds usually share some common features.

First, tax consultants' college educations often focus heavily on accounting, business, or law. Graduate programs in taxation offer another opportunity to build targeted knowledge. Relevant undergrad programs include bachelor's degrees in accounting, business administration, and legal studies. At the graduate level, you can pursue a master's degree in accounting, business administration, taxation, or legal studies.

Furthermore, successful tax strategists tend to benefit from practical experience. They use the knowledge and techniques acquired in professional settings to the advantage of their clients. Thus, their education often combines both classroom and experiential learning.

Required Credentials for Tax Consultants

Credentialing requirements depend on the scope of your job duties as a tax consultant. If you simply provide strategy and advice, you do not require any particular credential other than proven expertise.

Some tax advisors prepare tax returns for their clients. To perform this function, you must have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number. These IDs are available to certified tax preparers and other tax professionals.

Other tax consultants represent their clients in dealings with the IRS. If you plan to offer this service, you must hold IRS enrolled agent certification.

Tax advisors can also pursue optional credentials to boost their professional standing. The following section details these certifications.

Optional Certifications and Degrees

When thinking about how to become a tax advisor, consider that many professionals come from accounting backgrounds. A certified public accountant (CPA) license and related experience can be an attractive asset to aspiring tax consultants. Renewal requirements vary by state, but most jurisdictions require candidates to recertify every 1-2 years and complete a specific number of continuing professional education courses.

The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT) offers a voluntary accredited tax advisor (ATA) certification program. The ATA credential demonstrates your advanced abilities and may boost your appeal to certain employers.

ACAT's eligibility guidelines include:

  • At least three years of professional experience in tax planning, consulting, compliance, and/or tax return preparation
  • At least 40% of that professional experience must be specific to tax consulting and planning duties

Note: ACAT counts each January-April tax season as one year of experience. To obtain the ATA certification, you must pass a standardized exam issued by ACAT. The exam covers two parts — if you pass one part but fail the other, you can retake only the part you did not previously pass.

Maintaining the ATA credential requires an annual renewal fee. You must also meet continuing education requirements. Professionals holding ATA credentials must report their continuing education credits every three years.

Required Experience for a Tax Consultant

Tax professionals do not require any particular level of experience to launch careers as consultants. Employers and clients mainly value your ability to navigate tax law and find savings opportunities while remaining compliant. Performing these duties at a high level demands extensive knowledge of tax codes and regulations.

Tax consultants typically develop this knowledge through education and work experience. Consider the following options to develop experience:

To obtain ACAT certification as an accredited tax advisor, you will need at least three years of tax-focused work experience.

Should I Become a Tax Consultant?

Labor experts often characterize tax careers as stable, practical paths that thrive in all economic conditions. Tax consultants remain in demand regardless of shifts in the wider economy, as individuals and businesses must still meet their tax obligations.

However, remember that U.S. tax law is very complex as you think about how to become a tax advisor. As the Tax Policy Center notes, tax policy does not function solely to generate government revenue. It must also work to balance the economy and provide assistance to vulnerable members of our society.

Learning the specifics of federal, state, and local tax law takes time, effort, and dedication. For individuals with the necessary skills, tax careers can be very rewarding and enjoyable. Well-established and capable tax experts tend to benefit from strong job demand, creating the potential to earn a high income.

The Job Hunt

Tax professionals usually advance into consulting jobs after acquiring years of experience in related or supporting roles. The professional networks they build along the way can yield job leads as they transition into tax strategy and tax planning.

Accounting, tax, and tax law professional organizations often host conferences, professional development events, and career-building resources. Joining a member association and actively participating may improve your access to career leads. Consider the following job boards:

  • TaxTalent: This leading job board allows users to filter hundreds of available openings by job title, position type, and tax specialization.
  • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants Global Job Board: The ACCA job board offers free access to an international job board. Connect with opportunities in North America, Europe, Asia, and beyond.
  • etaxjobs: This global job board connects tax professionals with various tax roles. Job-seekers can use search filters to find senior-level roles, remote positions, and other niche opportunities.
  • Consultants 500: The Consultants 500 job board maintains an exclusive professional services focus. Enter tax-related keywords in the site's search feature to locate current openings.

Upward Mobility

Highly experienced and top-performing tax consultants can work toward C-suite career opportunities. C-suite positions are top-ranking executive roles that include "chief" in the job title.

C-suite corporate tax experts are usually called chief tax officers (CTOs). A CTO typically works with or under a company's chief financial officer (CFO). They are generally responsible for:

  • Developing the processes used by internal tax divisions or departments
  • Monitoring daily operations, identifying areas for improvement, and enacting the necessary changes
  • Ensuring organizational compliance with all applicable tax laws
  • Overseeing the hiring and management of senior tax personnel

CTOs bear high levels of responsibility, which their pay rates reflect. As of September 2022, Salary.com reports the median (50th percentile) CTO salary in the United States at $256,100 per year. Meanwhile, Glassdoor lists their total compensation, including salary and benefits, at about $223,260 per year.

Questions on How to Become a Tax Advisor

What is the difference between a tax preparer and a tax advisor?

Tax preparers primarily help clients identify and claim deductions and credits that reduce their tax burdens. They also file tax returns for their clients. Tax advisors may offer these services, but they also guide clients through longer-term income and asset management strategies related to taxation.

How do I become a tax strategist?

There is no set path for becoming a tax strategist. Successful tax strategists are experts who systematically build their knowledge through education and professional experience. Many come from academic backgrounds in accounting, business, law, or taxation.

What skills do you need to be a tax advisor?

The most fundamental hard skill necessary to succeed as a tax advisor is a comprehensive knowledge of all federal, state, and local tax laws. Tax strategists must also find creative solutions to complex situations, which requires advanced critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Is tax consulting a good career?

Experts generally consider tax consulting a stable career path. Tax professionals remain in demand among individual taxpayers and businesses in all economic conditions. Payscale data from September 2022 indicates an average tax consultant salary of $62,613.

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