Income-tax preparation courses are usually offered in the fall, and help train applicants to provide tax services to the general public. The courses are often hosted by tax-preparation-services providers who hope to bolster their employee and independent-contractor numbers before tax season begins in earnest. Not all students taking the courses will be hired. Some students provide independent tax-preparation services on an entrepreneurial basis, and others simply take the courses to gain a better understanding of the process of handling their own tax liability.
There is usually a three-level approach to the basic courses and a two-level approach for those candidates who already went through the basic coursework in a prior year. The basic courses begin by teaching novices about IRS filing requirements, credits and deductions, and determining the proper filing status of a client. The second level goes into detail about expenses and miscellaneous incomes, and also how to identify the right forms to use when preparing a tax return. The third level explains depreciation and its associated intricacies. The two-level program offered to graduates of the basic-level courses deals with changes in tax laws, business taxes and financial planning for the coming tax year.
Income-tax preparation courses are regulated on a state-by-state basis. If you hope to use this education in starting a new career, find out which courses in your state are in harmony with the state's licensing requirements. One example of a regulating agency is the California Tax Education Council, which sets the standards for tax preparers and courses operating in California.
Students in an income-tax preparation course may choose one of three options for going through the classes.
The first option involves traveling to the tax school that offers the courses. This format provides a learning experience in a traditional classroom setting.
The second option allows for a largely self-paced study format at a tax-preparation center. An instructor and other students are present, but by and large, each student works on computerized simulations and goes through the modules at his own pace. This is a great option for people who like the independence of doing things their own way but still need some accountability.
The third option is an online course. It is convenient and includes all of the information the other courses present. If you do not need the accountability and encouragement that come from a classroom setting, this is an expedient way of taking in all the information.
Some income tax preparation courses are offered free of charge. The only associated costs are books, materials and lab fees. Other courses charge a flat fee that includes the books, but also access to the instructor and email help after graduation. Depending on your comfort level and your ability to pay, it is a good idea to shop around and enroll in the course that not only offers the training you are looking for, but also the post-graduation assistance you think you might need.
Remember that a tax preparer can be held liable for mistakes made on a client's tax returns. It is not enough to graduate from a state-approved income tax preparation course; you must also invest in an insurance bond to minimize any personal liability.
Based in the Los Angeles area, Sylvia Cochran is a seasoned freelance writer focusing on home and garden, travel and parenting articles. Her work has appeared in "Families Online Magazine" and assorted print and Internet publications.