Becoming A Tax Preparer: 5 Skills To Help You Thrive


There’s always a need for tax preparers. After all, from individuals working minimum wage jobs to the largest corporations, everyone has to file taxes. Still, while there’s always a demand for tax preparers, not everyone has the skills to succeed. If you’re considering a career as a tax preparer, it’s important to know what the work involves and what it takes to thrive.

These 5 skills are at the heart of industry success, equipping you to tackle whatever comes your way.

Tax Preparers, CPAs, And More

Before considering the skills that make for a great tax preparer, it’s important to clarify the differences between different types of tax professionals. Though often spoken of as though they’re the same, CPAs and tax preparers have different skills. CPAs – certified public accountants – have a broad financial background. They perform audits, work with businesses and government bodies to prepare financial statements, and deal with many non-tax financial regulations. Those CPAs that work on tax issues tend to have a highly-specialized knowledge base, but you likely wouldn’t want to hire a CPA without an emphasis on your taxes, especially if they’re at all complicated.

Compared to a CPA, tax preparers are focused only on tax issues, but they don’t need to have the same amount of financial education and knowledge that a CPA does. Despite this, tax preparers are as equipped, if not more so, to handle tax preparation than a CPA. That’s because tax preparers focus exclusively on tax issues. Most take tax preparation courses to learn the necessary skills and regulations, and in order to become a tax preparer, you’ll need to work with the IRS to become an Enrolled Agent (EA), which involves passing the Special Enrollment Examination.

EAs are eligible to represent clients in front of the IRS. In other words, being a successful tax preparer is about more than just crunching numbers. From mastering tax code to interfacing with clients, there’s a lot of different skills that come together to make a tax preparation business successful.

It’s also worth noting that there is a separate group – registered tax return preparers (RTRPs) – who only study Form 1040 tax preparation. You don’t hear much about this subgroup, and for good reason: this certification isn’t good for much. RTRPs can only handle basic individual tax returns, not business returns.

The Basics: Number Smarts

Tax preparers may do a lot more than just calculate tax bills, but if you aren’t good with numbers, you’ll likely be miserable in this field. Modern tax prep software will do a lot of the actual math for you, but if you have strong, natural numeracy, you’ll be able to spot major errors stemming from simply typos, help clients strategize, and generally feel confident when you complete a return. Tax-related math is hardly straightforward, so strong math skills are paramount.

It’s All In The Details

Being good with numbers will help you be successful as a tax preparer and can help you catch some mistakes, but the trait that will save you time and time again in this industry is attention to detail. Even beyond running calculations, there are just so many tiny elements that go into any single tax return. You need to be focused on every line, each individual number, and never lose track of a receipt or miss a deadline. As an EA, you have a serious responsibility to your clients, both individuals and businesses, and your focus is what will gain their trust and set you apart from the competition.

Mastering The Tech

Anyone working in the tax industry needs to be good with computers. That’s because your clients will undoubtedly be using a range of platforms to organize their own finances, and you’ll also be using tax preparation software to complete returns. If you can’t adapt quickly to new software and don’t have a fairly intuitive approach to computer-based work, you’ll struggle to do your job.

Problem Solving Power

Tax preparation is an art and a puzzle; to serve your clients well, you need to be a creative problem solver – and this skillset is intimately linked with your math abilities and attention to detail. The best EAs and CPAs draw on those different skills to identify filing changes, deductions, and other possible paths to reduce their clients’ financial burdens. Often you understand your clients’ financial standing better than they do, and you certainly know the tax code more intimately. That’s what sets you apart from their bookkeeper – that wealth of knowledge regarding the volumes and volumes of tax law, and you need to leverage that.

People Over Paperwork

Sure, there are a lot of technical skills that go into working as a tax preparer, but despite all of this, this is still a client-focused job and you need to be friendly and personable. Whether you’re working primarily with individuals or businesses, you’ll need to interview clients, collaborate with them to ensure you have all of the proper documentation to complete the job, and work closely with every client to ensure that you’re reaching the best possible filing outcome.

When it comes to the interpersonal aspects of tax preparation, whether or not you succeed will hinge heavily on how clients feel about you. There are dozens of tax preparers, CPAs, and other financial experts in any given area, so being capable isn’t enough. You need to be outstanding and likeable, to have clients who enjoy working with you, even if the process is far from fun for them. If you can pull this off, a basic tax preparer relationship that begins shortly before filing one year will go on to become a financial bond that lasts for many years. Furthermore, as technology automates a growing number of tax functions, the interpersonal elements of the job will become even more important.

What You Don’t Need

You need a lot of different skills to succeed as a tax preparer, from math skills and a mastery of tax code as proven on the EA exam to technical and social skills, but to be great at this job, you don’t need to do it all. For example, to be a tax preparer, you don’t even need a college degree to become a tax preparer. While an accounting degree would certainly be a great start, it’s not required, as long as you pass the required exam.

Another skill you don’t need to be a successful tax preparer is an elaborate business plan. That’s because, in most cases, EAs don’t lead firms; they are employed by larger accounting firms run by CPAs. You need to be good at your tasks, but you don’t need to run the entire business. And even as an employee of a larger firm, your attitude, people skills, and professionalism will be what attracts loyal clients to your side.

Expanding Your Reach – The Taxfyle Way

One of the major advantages of being an EA is that you have a lot of employment flexibility, but beyond working for a larger tax firm, now there’s a new way to approach your work – with the help of Taxfyle.

At Taxfyle, we partner with businesses with larger tax firms seeking to expand their reach, as well as with individual CPAs and EAs offering their services. Simply answer a few questions, confirm your status as an EA, and join the team. Our software will match you with existing tax preparation jobs.

To learn more about how Taxfyle can help you succeed, contact Taxfyle today. We’re passionate about making the tax preparation process easier for everyone, and we need determined and skilled tax preparers like you to make that happen.

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