Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA) Overview

Updated October 24, 2023

This comprehensive overview on becoming an accredited tax advisor provides the necessary steps and resources to obtain your ATA qualification and succeed in the tax industry. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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ATA certification indicates that a professional possesses an in-depth knowledge of tax laws and regulations. Tax consultants, tax managers, and tax accountants specializing in taxation typically pursue this credential.

The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT), a non-profit organization established in 1973, offers the ATA certification, which requires each candidate to pass a comprehensive examination covering individual and business taxation, ethics, and professional responsibility.

Certified individuals possess the skills and knowledge necessary to provide high-quality tax preparation services and represent clients in tax-related matters before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Although some tax employers do not require ATA certification, it is a preferred credential demonstrating a commitment to excellence in the field. According to the ACAT, there are approximately 200 active ATA holders in the United States. Discover information on ATA certification and available career pathways with this helpful guide.

Why Get an ACAT Credential?

  • Boosts Earning Potential: The ATA certification can lead to higher salaries and more job opportunities. Many employers in the tax industry require or prefer candidates with advanced credentials like the ATA certification. According to a 2018 National Society of Accountants survey, ATA-certified tax professionals earned an average of $30,000 more annually than those without the certification.
  • Establishes National Credibility: The IRS and other professional tax organizations recognize the ATA certification. By earning this credential, tax professionals can demonstrate their expertise and commitment to the field. Added credibility can increase trust with clients and businesses.
  • Improves Job Security: The ATA certification can lead to job security and career advancement opportunities. Many employers require or prefer candidates with advanced credentials, and the ATA certification can give tax professionals a competitive edge in the job market. Additionally, ATA certification can open opportunities for leadership roles and additional responsibilities within tax firms.

Explore Online Taxation Master's Programs

How Do You Qualify to Become an ATA?

Candidates must meet specific standards set by the ACAT to become ATAs. Most importantly, they must pass the ATA exam, which is administered twice a year at testing centers across the United States. Prospective ATAs must also be at least 18 years old and possess relevant experience.

There are no education or experience requirements to take the exam, but certification requires three years of relevant experience. To register for the exam, each candidate must pay a fee and complete an application form.

In addition to passing the exam, candidates must also meet ethical standards, including adhering to ACAT's Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct.

Licensure requirements for becoming an ATA do not vary based on the candidate's location. However, prospective test-takers should check their state's tax preparer registration or licensing requirements, which differ from the ATA certification.

Educational Requirements

You typically need a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field with a concentration in taxation to land employment and earn the necessary experience for ATA certification. Taxation-related courses, such as federal income taxation, corporate taxation, and tax research and planning, can help candidates prepare for roles in the field.

Time spent in roles relating to other certifications, such as the certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA), can also help candidates earn experience toward ATA certification.

Several universities offer master's programs in taxation that can help prepare to pursue taxation-related roles. Some of the best tax programs include those offered by the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Villanova University. Online master's programs in taxation provide added flexibility for working professionals.

Professional Requirements

For ATA certification, the ACAT recommends a minimum of three years of experience in tax preparation or related work. Your professional background should include work in federal taxation, state taxation, tax planning, and/or tax research.

Additionally, at least 40% of this experience must occur within tax planning and consulting. ACAT considers one tax season, from January through April, equivalent to one year of professional experience.

Potential job titles that may qualify for ATA certification include tax preparer, tax consultant, tax accountant, and tax analyst. ACAT also recognizes teaching experience in taxation at the postsecondary level toward the requirement.

Although candidates can substitute experience for education, a minimum of a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field is usually required to obtain the certification. However, other credentials, such as the CPA or EA, can also demonstrate the necessary knowledge and skills for ATA certification.

What Does the ATA Exam Cover?

The ATA exam includes 100 multiple-choice questions based on tax preparer tasks, along with their frequency and perceived importance.

The test explores accounting knowledge, taxation, practice procedures and ethics, retirement, and business law and consulting services. The following table includes topics for each section.

ATA Exam Structure
Section Format Topics

Accounting Knowledge

20 multiple-choice questions

  • Accounting principles
  • Other comprehensive basis of accounting
  • Record setup
  • Worksheet preparation
  • Adjusting, revising, closing entries, and error correction
  • Financial statement preparation and presentation
  • Inventories
  • Payroll


53 multiple-choice questions

  • Individual taxation
  • Engagement letters
  • Sole proprietorship
  • Rental activities
  • Special tax
  • Computations and impact analysis
  • Partnerships
  • Limited liability companies
  • Corporations
  • Fiduciaries

Business Law and Consulting Services

9 multiple-choice questions

  • Employee benefit plans
  • Power of attorney
  • Contracts
  • Entities
  • Trusts
  • Agency

Practice Procedures and Ethics

9 multiple-choice questions


9 multiple-choice questions

  • Personal financial planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Estate planning
  • Incapacity planning
  • Business succession planning

Scoring the Exam

Candidates must achieve a minimum score of 70 to pass the ATA exam. After completing the test, the ACAT will send a letter informing you of your pass/fail results. The exam results are confidential and released with the candidate's permission. ACAT stores exam results securely and indefinitely.

How Do You Register for the ATA Exam?

The ACAT promotes and maintains high standards in the accounting and taxation professions by recognizing individuals with a high level of knowledge and expertise. To register for the ATA exam, each candidate must complete an application and submit the appropriate documentation and fees at the ACAT credentials website.

The required documents and information include a completed ATA application form, proof of education or work experience, and payment of exam fees.

The ACAT administers this computer-based exam during the summer and fall at designated Scantron testing centers. Additionally, the ATA exam has no citizenship or institution membership requirements, but candidates must meet certain experience requirements.

Before scheduling the exam, candidates must also agree to abide by ACAT's Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct. Candidates who do not pass the ATA exam on their first attempt may retake it up to three times within two years.

However, candidates must wait at least 90 days before retaking the exam and pay an additional fee for each retake.

Paying for the Exam

The ATA exam costs $250, and candidates who miss the deadline each pay a $50 late registration fee. To maintain your credential, you must pay a separate $50 activation fee, a $20 fee for the certificate, and annual renewal fees to ACAT.

How Can You Prepare for the ATA Exam?

Preparing early is key to success on the ATA exam. The ACAT does not recommend a specific number of hours of preparation. However, they do provide study materials and review courses to help candidates. To help you get started, here are some tips for preparing for the ATA exam.

Top Tips

Work on Time Management

ATA exam candidates must answer many multiple-choice questions in a limited time. Candidates should take timed practice exams to develop a sense of how much time they have per question and improve their pacing.

Focus on Weaker Areas

ATA exam candidates should review their practice test results to identify problem areas and focus their study efforts accordingly.

Join Study Groups or Find a Mentor

Studying with others can help you remain motivated and gain insights from other tax professionals. ATA exam candidates should consider joining study groups or seeking mentors to prepare for the exam.

Practice with Case Studies

The ATA exam includes case study scenarios, which test candidates' ability to apply tax rules and regulations to real-world situations. Candidates should practice with case studies to familiarize themselves with this format and develop critical thinking skills.

Use Available Resources

ATA exam candidates should use resources such as review courses, textbooks, online resources, and practice exams. Review courses and textbooks can provide a comprehensive overview of the exam topics, while online resources and practice exams can help candidates hone their skills and identify areas that require more work.

Practice Exams and Study Resources

  • National Society of Accountants: The NSA offers the ATA Preparatory Course, which is a comprehensive program to prepare tax professionals for the ATA exam. It covers federal tax law, tax planning, ethics and responsibilities, and practice management.
  • FunCPE: FunCPE offers an online ATA Prep Course covering all ATA exam sections. The course includes study materials, practice exams, and a final exam. Enrollees can access this self-paced course at any time and from anywhere. Participants can also earn 30 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) credit upon completion.
  • TrueCerts: TrueCerts offers practice exam questions for various professional certifications, including the ATA exam. These practice tests simulate the actual testing experience, allowing individuals to identify areas where they need to focus their study efforts and gain confidence in their knowledge and skills.

What Is Needed to Maintain This ACAT Credential?

Once an individual has met all the requirements to become a certified ATA, they must continue to meet ongoing requirements to maintain their certification.

Credential-holders must comply with ACAT's requirements, which include payment of annual renewal fees, completion of mandatory CPE requirements, and adherence to ACAT's Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct.

Each individual must earn 90 hours of CPE over three years, with at least 86 hours in taxation or related subjects, such as accounting, finance, technology, or business law. The remaining hours can relate to the candidate's area of practice or employment. Additionally, four hours of ethics training is mandatory during each three-year period.

Should You Get Multiple Certifications?

Several certifications may be relevant or popular to earn alongside the ATA certification, depending on your career goals and area of specialization. Some examples include:

  • EA: The IRS offers this certification and allows individuals to represent taxpayers before the IRS in tax-related matters. The EA exam covers federal taxation of individuals, businesses, and other entities.
  • CPA: The state board of accountancy awards this credential, which focuses on accounting and tax-related topics. CPAs can provide various services, including tax preparation, financial planning, and auditing.
  • Certified Tax Preparer: The ACAT offers this credential that demonstrates knowledge of federal tax law and regulations. CTPs prepare and sign tax returns for individuals and businesses but cannot represent clients before the IRS.

The ATA and CTP credentials both relate to tax preparation and require individuals to showcase their knowledge of federal tax laws.

However, the ATA certification is more advanced and covers more topics, including tax planning, research, and practice management.

Questions About Taxation Certifications

  • What is the role of a tax advisor?

    A tax advisor provides guidance and advice to individuals and businesses on tax-related matters, including tax planning, compliance, and problem resolution. They help clients minimize their tax liabilities and ensure compliance with applicable tax laws and regulations.

  • Can anyone be a tax consultant?

    Most reputable tax consultants have specialized training, experience, and credentials in taxation, such as a CPA or EA certification.

  • Where can I take the ATA exam?

    You can take the ATA computer-based exams at Scantron Testing Centers across North America.

  • When is the ATA exam administered?

    The ACAT administers the ATA exam twice a year in the summer (June 1-July 15) and fall (Sept. 15-Nov. 15). The registration deadline for the summer and fall exam windows are May 29 and Sept. 12, respectively.

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