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How Can I Become a Tax Specialist?

Research what it takes to become a tax specialist. Learn about the typical job duties, educational requirements and salary information to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Tax Specialist?

A tax specialist is an accountant or lawyer who specializes in helping individuals and organizations prepare and file taxes. Public accountants who specialize in taxes often help individual clients prepare their taxes. In addition, they may advise companies on making business and investment decisions that will maximize their tax returns. Tax lawyers tend to handle more complicated tax-related issues, such as helping businesses navigate regulations that differ between states. They may also help individuals who have complicated financial situations, in order to help them ensure that they are paying the correct taxes on their income and properties.

The following table presents information for this career:

Accountant Tax Attorney
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Juris Doctor
Education Field of Study Accounting Law with a tax emphasis
Licensure/Certification Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential Bar exam and state license
Job Growth (2018-2028) 6%* (accountants and auditors) 6%* (all lawyers)
Median Salary (2018) $70,500* (accountants and auditors) $120,910* (all lawyers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Tax Specialist Do?

Tax specialists document all stages of the accounting cycle in order to prepare Federal, State and local tax returns. You will review data prior to preparing the returns, prepare and file returns and provide background documentation in case of an audit. As you start your career, you will work under the supervision of an experienced tax specialist until they determine that you are able to work more independently.

Tax specialists typically work for:

  • Individual clients
  • Tax preparation companies
  • Payroll or accounting firms
  • Local, State or Federal governments
  • Accounting or tax departments within a company

Tax specialists who are lawyers or Certified Public Accountants (CPA) are frequently more involved in the business decision-making cycle that happens prior to tax filings. In this role, you may research and analyze business transactions that the company or client is planning to make. As a result of these analyses, you will recommend strategies to reduce or eliminate the taxes they are paying. CPAs who are tax specialists often supervise tax preparers and may own or run tax preparation firms.

What Kind of Education Is Required?

Attaining your CPA designation, which requires an undergraduate accounting degree plus passage of an exam and experience, will prepare you to work in the field. Because recommendations for the undergraduate coursework required by many states to receive a CPA have increased, some universities offer a 5-year combined undergraduate/master's degree program for accounting majors who want to become CPAs.

If you choose to become an attorney specializing in tax law, you will need to get an undergraduate degree focused on finance or accounting, a law degree and pass the bar exam. In order to advertise that you are a tax specialist, some states require you to take further coursework and pass an additional credentialing exam.

In all cases, you will need to maintain current knowledge of tax codes and regulations, so you will need to take continuing education classes, which may be offered through your employer, professional organizations or colleges.

What Personal Qualities Should I Have?

Tax specialists need to be detail-oriented and able to work quickly and accurately. You will need to have excellent communications and interpersonal skills. Much of this work is done using accounting software programs, so computer and keyboarding skills are also necessary. Overtime may be required during portions of the taxation cycle.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As an accountant, instead of focusing on taxes, you could specialize in a different subfield of accountancy. For instance, as a forensic accountant, you would investigate illegal financial practices such as fraud and embezzlement. Forensic accounts need at least a bachelor's degree. Alternatively, if you want to become a lawyer, you could choose to focus your practice in a subject other than taxes. For instance, environmental lawyers work on cases related to pollution, sustainability and resource utilization. Like tax lawyers, they need a J.D. degree in order to practice.