How to Become a Tax Accountant: Your 2024 Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Tax accountants use their knowledge of tax laws and regulations to prepare, file, and manage the taxes of individuals and organizations. Learn more about what you need to get started.

[Featured image] An accountant is outside, walking on a bridge.

What is a tax accountant?

A tax accountant handles the taxes for individuals, organizations, companies, or governments. Unlike an accountant who oversees all financial matters, you’ll specialize solely in taxes and follow tax laws set at the federal, state, and local levels. 

While income tax preparers also prepare and file taxes for clients, a tax accountant's qualifications and expertise extend beyond this so they can provide ongoing and long-term tax assistance to the people and entities they serve. 

What does a tax accountant do?

As a tax professional, your regular tasks and responsibilities might include:

  • Preparing federal and state tax returns

  • Offering tax planning advice

  • Helping clients save money when it comes time to file taxes

  • Creating annual tax-related plans for clients to follow throughout the year

  • Protecting clients from paying more than necessary

  • Making sure clients meet quarterly and annual tax deadlines

  • Advising clients about the impact of tax laws and liabilities

  • Arranging tax audits with authorities when needed

Tax accountant salary and job outlook

The median annual salary in the US for accountants and auditors is $78,000, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [1]. Your salary will vary depending on your education, experience level, the industry you work in, and the state you live in.

As for job outlook, the number of jobs between 2022 and 2032 is projected to grow 4 percent, about as fast as the average for all jobs [1]. Your chances of getting a job also vary depending on your location and level of experience. Many accountants work in private practices or freelance when tax season rolls around.

Benefits of hiring a tax accountant

Tax accountants, especially in the United States, help individuals and organizations complete their taxes for the IRS every year. A good accountant is familiar with any tricky rules to help their clients save as much money as possible. They can even act as financial advisors, and sometimes are hired to do so when dealing with large sums of money and assets. The US federal tax system is especially complicated, so learning how to apply basic principles to tax returns and strategies is a useful skill for anybody to learn.


Types of tax accountants

Different types of tax accountants are distinguished by the industry they work for or the clients they focus on. Some examples include:

  • CPA tax accountants are certified public accountants (CPA) who also offer tax accounting services.

  • Forensic tax accountants investigate individuals and businesses in anticipation of a legal proceeding.

  • Management tax accountants take care of financial and tax matters for organizations and businesses.

  • Personal tax accountants manage taxes for individuals.

  • Government tax accountants work with federal, state, and local government agencies.

  • Small business tax accountants focus on smaller and typically privately owned businesses.

Tax accountant skills

Tax accounts deal with complex, confidential data that is regulated by law. If you have a keen understanding of mathematics, pay attention to detail, and enjoy serving others in a way that helps them flourish financially, you may be well-suited for a tax accountant role. Take a look at the specific skills you'll need:

Technical skills

  • Knowledge of the latest federal, state, and local tax laws and regulations

  • Proficiency in Microsoft Excel and tax preparation software

  • Understanding of basic arithmetic and statistics to calculate complex tax information

Workplace skills

  • Attention to detail in order to accurately prepare error-free documents and tax returns

  • Verbal and written communication skills to effectively interact with clients

  • Organizational skills to keep financial records easily accessible for reference

  • Time-management skills to meet important deadlines

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills to evaluate data, uncover fraud, and minimize tax liability

Read more: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?

Tax accountant career path

As you complete your studies and gain experience as a tax accountant, you will likely find that your interests and abilities gravitate toward a certain industry or clientele. Continue to refine your skills in the specialties that you choose, hone your customer service skills, and stay on top of tax law and requirements. 

Your career path may also lead you to a different accounting career, such as a management accountant, public accountant, budget director, or internal auditor. Some tax accountants also progress to become top executives and financial managers of corporations, including financial vice presidents, treasurers, controllers, and chief financial officers.

How to become a tax accountant

While degrees aren't always required, many accountants have a bachelor's in accounting or finance. Tax accountants who take courses in tax law are particularly well-prepared for their profession. Some employers seek out tax accountants who have master's degrees in accountancy or business administration. 

Many tax accountants are certified as well. Certifications help build your skill set and validate your knowledge to potential employers. Here are some popular options.

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This credential is required for accountants who file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It requires both passing a national exam and meeting certain state requirements.

  • Enrolled Agent (EA): This option allows tax accountants to legally represent clients in front of the IRS and involves passing the IRS Special Enrollment Exam. 

Read more: What Is a CPA and How Do I Become One?

Learn accounting on Coursera.

Explore whether a career in accounting may be right for you with a beginner-friendly course from a top university, like Introduction to Financial Accounting from the University of Pennsylvania.

Or, focus on building job-ready skills with a targeted certificate program like the Tally Bookkeeper Professional Certificate. You'll prepare for an entry-level role by practicing essential business data management, financial accounting, bookkeeping, and banking skills.

Are you looking to build upon existing skills to advance your accounting career? Consider earning your master's of accounting online from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Article sources

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Accountants and Auditors," Accessed January 3, 2024.

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