How to Become a Tax Accountant: Education and Other Employment

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When you’re setting out on a career path as an accountant, there are many potential directions you can turn regarding your long-term future. You can position yourself to serve business or individual clients, and choose whether you’re happiest aiming to work as a tax preparer at a large accounting firm, open your own tax service business, or serve in a corporate accounting department.

If your primary interest lies in taxation matters—the laws, procedures, and best practices around taxes—you may seek to become a tax accountant. This specialized role can be demanding, as it calls for an in-depth knowledge of the tax code along with the ability to always stay abreast of new developments. You must also have a head for figures, an eye for details, and a spotless set of business ethics.

A tax accountant poses with binders of financial statements.

If this sounds exciting and promising, it’s time to start building the experience you’ll need to secure a role with a top firm and start rising through the ranks. The most straightforward way to begin your journey in the tax accountant profession involves three separate kinds of preparation. Industry credentials such as certified public accountant (CPA) certification make up part of this career path, alongside job experience and postgraduate education.

By accumulating a diverse set of skills and experiences relating to taxation, you can become deeply involved in this highly specialized field. This is a serious commitment to the business of taxes and accounting, but it can lead to a stable and rewarding career path that caters to your interests.

What Is the Career Outlook for Tax Accountants?

It’s often said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. The need for tax accountants is sustained by the fact that year after year, companies and individuals alike need knowledgeable professionals to help them decipher and file their taxes. This constant requirement is good news if you’re aiming for a long-term, stable role in accounting and tax preparation. To take advantage of the demand you’ll need to keep up with the latest developments to the tax code as it evolves from year to year.

As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out, positive periods of economic development tend to be especially fruitful times for accountants and auditors. When companies feel more empowered to spend money, there will be an increasing requirement for people to work with their financial records. With that said, tax return preparation is necessary in any economic conditions, making tax accountants indispensable.

Becoming a tax accountant comes with the potential to earn a reliable salary. Indeed stated that the average tax accountant salary in the U.S. is $61,946. That number applies to employees with between one and three years in a tax accountant role. Staying in such a position longer may come with financial recognition or the chance to move up within the team and department.

The role of tax accountant is not a career dead end. PayScale noted that there are multiple career paths within the worlds of finance and accounting, allowing top performers to advance their positions along with their potential earning power. It is common for tax accountants to move up to become senior tax accountants, then potentially on to a tax manager or tax director position. Tax managers are the senior professionals in charge of tax return preparation at large corporations, and their near-six-figure average salary, $98,180 according to PayScale, shows the high value employers place on them.

What Does a Tax Accountant Do Every Day?

The daily responsibilities of a tax accountant are more specialized than those of a general, entry-level accountant because they are primarily concerned with helping companies or individuals prepare tax returns. The existence of the dedicated tax accountant role to complete these filings shows the high value placed on getting the process correct—and the potential consequences should someone make a mistake.

Of course, this one-dimensional view of tax accountant duties ignores the times between filing seasons. Indeed explained that other responsibilities of tax accountants include research into tax law to ensure filings are being carried out correctly. By performing deep analytical dives into their clients’ or employers’ financials, these accountants can detect opportunities for savings. Considering the constant evolution of tax law, there is ample potential to uncover new advantages.

There are also tax accountants whose duties include a strong advisory component. Indeed noted that these individuals can work with either corporate or individual clients. PayScale added that tax accountants can provide more detailed insights into ideal taxation scenarios and advantages by giving presentations for their clients. When a law has changed that puts people or companies at risk of noncompliance or offers them a new avenue to save money, a skilled tax accountant will make this clear.

Another aspect of a tax accountant’s responsibilities is their coordination with government agencies. PayScale stated that when authorities are interested in conducting an audit of an individual or company’s books, they can do so in collaboration with the tax accountants responsible for their filings.

What Are Tax Accountants’ Key Skills and Competencies?

Whether they are working for corporations, large nonprofit organizations, or accounting firms dealing with business or individual clientele, tax accountants require a few important abilities to excel.

The BLS, Indeed, and PayScale all list the qualifications it takes to be a great accountant dealing with taxation matters. While none of these are surprising, it does pay to hone the abilities while building professional or educational experience. They include the following:

  • Strong numeracy: Filing taxes is not all about completing difficult equations, but an ideal tax accountant will have a keen mind for math. It pays to be able to look at a list of figures and tell if something looks like it has been calculated incorrectly. Catching potential errors and handing in meticulous tax filings is a way to add value to employers and clients.
  • Communication skills: The tax code is laden with highly specific rules and industry jargon. A good tax accountant will be able to comprehend that information and then relay it to others clearly. As a tax accountant, you will be the person in the room with the deepest knowledge of the laws and policies involved. Telling corporate leaders or individual clients what those rules mean to them in real, actionable terms allows you to present them with sound advice.
  • Problem-solving ability: Not only must tax accountants have knowledge of the laws and mathematical concepts behind taxation, they should also be able to think in novel ways about how to solve problems. Each tax return has the potential to bring new challenges and opportunities. If you can synthesize your general knowledge with the specific details of a given situation and stay cool when facing complex decisions, you can maximize your value as an accountant.

To build those abilities and more, you can focus on positions related to accounting and taxation, as well as further education and the pursuit of industry certifications.

How Can You Establish a Long-term Career as a Tax Accountant?

Moving up from an entry-level accounting role to a long-term tax accountant position with potential for further advancement can depend on three types of resume-building. In the accounting field, there are numerous opportunities to attain professional certifications, learn on the job, and advance your education beyond the bachelor’s degree level.

By combining these potential sources of knowledge and experience, you can develop your readiness for difficult accounting work and potentially make yourself a more valuable candidate in the eyes of hiring managers.

Fortunately, if you are interested in making rapid progress along a tax accounting career path, there is nothing stopping you from developing your career in multiple ways at once. In an era when online master’s degree programs are available, it’s possible to study for a diploma while also holding a full-time accounting position and assembling the requirements for professional certification.

Certifications Relating to Taxation and Accounting

Becoming a CPA is one of the most important moves an accountant can make when seeking to advance in the financial field. While the requirements are steep—accumulating the 150 hours of college work needed to qualify for the CPA exam and then passing the test, as well as complying with state rules—the BLS noted that CPAs have an edge when searching for accounting jobs. Hiring managers know that CPA status, which must be retained via continuing education, is the mark of an accomplished and knowledgeable accountant.

Of course, CPA is not the only kind of professional certification within the fields of accounting, auditing, and taxation. Outside of the American Institute of CPAs, the Institute of Management Accountants, Association of Government Accountants, and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants also award their own credentials.

PayScale added that other related certifications, such as enrolled agent and certified financial planner, may also help you apply for tax accountant positions. Each can demonstrate to potential employers that you have spent time and effort focusing on a specific kind of accountancy and have performed the necessary duties to keep your status current.

Job Experience Requirements for Tax Professionals

Working in entry-level accounting jobs is likely the most direct route to prove you have what it takes to assume more advanced tax preparation responsibilities. As Indeed noted, many hiring managers looking for tax accountants will require their applicants to have at least three years of job experience in a field related to taxation and accounting.

When it comes to getting a junior job in an accounting firm or financial department and beginning the path to a tax accountant role, you may find it’s valuable to begin as a bookkeeper or clerk. The BLS reported its possible for professionals with sufficient education to move into a junior accounting role by demonstrating accounting aptitude. There are also internship opportunities if you lack accounting experience but want to begin accumulating it.

While building the potentially years of experience needed to approach tax accountant status may seem like a lengthy process, you may be able to enhance the value of this time by also studying for an advanced degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. Today’s career-focused online master’s degree programs are designed to be taken alongside a full-time job, allowing you to build your resume in multiple ways.

Postgraduate Education for Tax Accountants

Graduate-level taxation, finance, and accounting programs take multiple forms depending on the area of the field students are most interested in. The Online Master of Science in Taxation at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business is an example of an accelerated but authoritative course of study designed to equip students with in-depth taxation knowledge for their careers.

The Online MS in Taxation is aimed at professionals working their way through the ranks in the accounting world. One of the admission requirements is either two years of work in a tax role or possession of an industry credential such as CPA, enrolled agent, JD, or CFP status. The courses in the online program are designed to build on the knowledge acquired in undergraduate education and the first years of a financial career to help graduates further their engagement with taxation.

A tax accountant shows a financial document.

Reflecting the divide between tax accountants based on their areas of interest, there are two tracks within the Online MS in Taxation. Students can select whether they want to focus on Taxation of Entities or Taxation of Individuals. Considering the depth of financial knowledge required to master the tax code, it makes sense to focus on serving a specific type of clientele. The tax laws facing Fortune 500 corporations represent a very different set of rules than those aimed at individual taxpayers.

The curriculum, designed by expert faculty with expertise in both the academic and practical aspects of tax law, is meant to help students apply lessons in their everyday work, making them more valuable contributors at their places of employment. Depending on how many classes you elect to take each semester, you can graduate in as few as 20 months.

The online coursework includes advanced interactive multimedia alongside traditional features such as lectures. With courses that span from tax practice and ethics to estate taxation, flow-through entities, and much more, every corner of U.S. tax law is represented. These are concepts that can add to your overall knowledge of taxation and finance as you seek the next rung on the corporate ladder.

To learn more specifics about the Online MS in Taxation, visit the program page today.

Recommended Readings:
What a Career as a Tax Auditor Looks Like
A Look at a Career in Tax Accounting

PayScale — Average Tax Accountant Salary
PayScale — Average Tax Manager Salary
Indeed — Tax Accountant Job Description Sample
Bureau of Labor Statistics — Accountants and Auditors