Learn Taxes with Online Courses, Classes, & Lessons

Learn Taxes with Online Courses, Classes, & Lessons


What do I receive as a volunteer?This is a short-term commitment that makes a big difference. As an NYC Free Tax Prep volunteer, you will join a team of passionate, supportive, and diverse New Yorkers. You will gain knowledge about basic tax law and earn IRS certification to serve as a volunteer preparer. This all happens while you are assisting people who need help and are truly grateful for your work.Can I volunteer from home?Yes. Volunteers can choose to only do so from the comfort of their own home. The NYC Free Tax Prep organization that you volunteer with will inform you of any security protocols that you need to follow to protect client data.If I volunteer in-person, what health and safety protocols are in place?Filers and volunteers must follow New York State health guidelines, including wearing a mask and social distancing appropriately during each visit. In addition, organizations may conduct health screenings and take additional precautions such as requiring appointments, using drop-off service, and other public health procedures as outlined by New York State health guidance.What will I do as a volunteer?Most NYC Free Tax Prep volunteers become volunteer preparers. After completing tax law training and successfully passing the certification exam, you will use standard IRS forms and electronic filing software to provide free tax return preparation for eligible filers. Other volunteers may serve as:
  • greeters, who screen taxpayers to determine the type of assistance they need and confirm they have the necessary documentation to complete their tax returns; or
  • interpreters, who provide free language interpretation to help filers who want to speak with a volunteer in their preferred language. 
Training and support are provided for all roles. As a volunteer, you’ll never be left alone.What are the requirements to volunteer?You do not need tax experience to become an NYC Free Tax Prep volunteer. Most volunteers are not tax professionals, but are students, young professionals, and retirees. Before you start volunteering, you will receive training from excellent instructors who teach new volunteers how to complete basic tax returns for the most common scenarios seen at NYC Free Tax Prep sites. Other general requirements for volunteering are:
  • being comfortable working with people;
  • completing the IRS volunteer certification; and
  • serving as a regular volunteer each week or every other week.
I’m an Enrolled Agent. Can I get CE credits for volunteering?Yes. Volunteering with the IRS VITA/TCE program through NYC Free Tax Prep is a great way for Enrolled Agents to earn IRS Continuing Education (CE) credits. Attorneys and Certified Public Accountants may also qualify for CE credits depending on their state licensing requirements or National Boards of Standards. Learn more at irs.govI have additional questions.Contact us at freetaxprep@dca.nyc.gov.

How do you get a PTIN?

This process begins on the IRS website and requires annual renewal. However, there is no fee for either the initial registration process or the renewal. Once a PTIN is issued, the tax preparer is required to put this on every single return they prepare. In general, the IRS website includes many helpful solutions and other tips for people beginning this process.


What do you need to become a tax preparer?

Becoming a tax preparer is a straightforward process involving a few basic requirements.

These include:

  1. Know-how. For most new tax preparers, learning the ins and outs of the business means acquiring an entirely new professional language. In some cases, this know-how comes in the form of certification. But finding a platform that can boost know-how and assist you with knowledge gaps is critical to success.
  2. Technology. As is the case with most professions, having access to the right technology will help you work efficiently and contributes to the general success of your new business. Most tax professional software assists with both know-how and the tools to accomplish the work itself.
  3. Clients. This might seem obvious, but you need to attract tax clients to succeed and become profitable. Many preparers start on a small scale – doing individual returns – before moving on to bigger and more complicated matters.
  4. Preparer Tax Identification Number. If you want to be paid for preparing tax returns, the first step is applying for – and being issued – a preparer tax identification number (PTIN).

Make a Phone Call to the IRS

The document called "IRS Publication 910: Guide to Free Tax Services" provides phone numbers for IRS departments, in addition to instructions about how to call them for help with your tax questions. Before you call one of these numbers, the IRS recommends that you have the tax form, schedule, or notice to which your question relates; the facts about your particular situation; and the name of any IRS publication or other source of information that you used to look for the answer.

While calling the IRS might seem like an ideal solution, the IRS offers this disclaimer to taxpayers–if they provide wrong information to you, you will still be held responsible: “If we should make an error in answering your question, you are still responsible for paying the correct tax.” You will still be responsible for the back taxes and interest if an audit later determines that you paid less than you should have, even if it was based on advice from a representative at the IRS.

However, you will not be charged any penalty due to an IRS error. A penalty from the IRS is an additional amount the IRS sometimes charges to those who have underpaid their taxes. If you do call, take copious notes, including the representative's name and title, and the time and date of your call.

Already have tax experience?

Put your knack for numbers to the test with our Tax Knowledge Assessment. Depending on your score, you could test out of our income tax course and be on track for a tax pro career with us.

Take the Knowledge Assessment

Final Verdict

If you’re interested in furthering your tax preparation career, there are tax courses available to fit various needs. Before choosing a tax preparation course, make sure you understand the costs and time commitment. If you’re seeking CPE credit, look for providers approved by the IRS. All of the companies on our list are approved by the IRS as continuing education providers.

We chose Surgent Income Tax School as offering the overall best tax preparation course because it has learning options available to people with all knowledge and experience levels. Plus, the costs are reasonable, and the school has a great reputation. You can expect to pay $29 for a single CPE course up to $1,497 for its most comprehensive tax training.

What Are Certified Tax Preparer Exams?

Ten years ago, the IRS required a tax preparation competency test for anyone not certified as an EA, an attorney, or a CPA. The organization removed this requirement in 2013 and no longer offers a general certification exam.

Apart from the attorney bar exam, the two available tax preparer exams are the special enrollment examination (SEE) for enrolled agents and the uniform CPA examination for CPAs.

EAs strictly represent taxpayers. CPAs can work as tax or financial advisors. The corresponding exams reflect these differences. The entire SEE covers information found only in the regulation section of the CPA exam. Even so, the SEE includes dozens of in-depth tax return topics.

The SEE includes three parts: individuals; business; and representation, practices, and procedures. Each section lasts 3.5 hours and contains 100 multiple-choice questions.

The CPA exam covers four sections: auditing and attestation (AUD), business environment and concepts (BEC), financial accounting and reporting (FAR), and regulation (REG). Each category lasts four hours and includes multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. The BEC section also contains three written communication prompts.

Some international candidates qualify for the shorter international qualification examination instead of the standard CPA exam.

The more comprehensive CPA exam may appeal to people who have already taken higher education courses in accounting and are interested in accounting and tax preparation. Individuals solely interested in tax preparation, audits, representation, and tax planning may prefer the SEE. Candidates may even first pursue EA certification, then become a CPA later on.

Step 3: Check Your State for Tax Preparer Requirements

  • Tax return preparer regulations vary widely by state. So be sure to check with the state you live in to see if you have specific requirements that you must meet. States like California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New York, and Oregon, do have requirements.
  • State requirements for tax return preparers can range from nothing, to annual registration, a required beginner course, and/or a state exam that you must pass. You may also have continuing education requirements. Many states still don’t have any requirements!

See if Your State has Tax Preparer Regulations

Federal tax law update test for Circular 230 professionals

The test covers new provisions and tax law changes. Volunteers with the professional designation of Attorney, Enrolled Agent or Certified Public Accountant have the option of certifying via the Circular 230 Federal Tax Law Update Test. A volunteer who completes this certification level can prepare all tax returns that fall within the scope of the VITA/TCE program as well as perform all volunteer roles such as tax preparer, quality reviewer and/or instructor. This is an optional test for Circular 230 professionals. Volunteers who would like additional training beyond this certification can choose the traditional certification paths (Basic, Advanced, etc.) available to all new and returning volunteers. Please refer to Publication 5363 PDF for additional information.

Learn about taxes

The edX platform offers courses designed in partnership with leaders in the field of finance and accounting. Students will complete courses on their own time and with a global cohort of students. Most courses are free for personal development, but students may also pursue official credit, certification, or a degree for a fee.

These courses are built for flexibility. edX's extensive collection covers many topics, including taxes, and allows students to explore for professional and personal growth.

How Is a Tax Preparer Different From an Accountant?

Accountants perform a wide variety of work including preparing financial statements, filing tax returns, and even auditing a company’s financial statements. They can also help individuals and businesses develop financial plans and estate planning. Tax preparers are only able to provide individuals and businesses with assistance and advice related to taxes.

Step 1: Take a Top-Quality, Beginner Tax Preparation Course

The Comprehensive Tax Course starts with the basics, assuming no prior tax knowledge. This hands-on income tax course will teach you to:

  • Prepare tax returns for most Form 1040 individual, non-business taxpayers
  • Prepare tax returns for most self-employed/Schedule C taxpayers
  • Research tax issues

About the course:

  • 5-star rated program
  • Register any time you like
  • Online, self-paced – available 24/7
  • 6 month term but many finish in 10 weeks or less
  • CTEC approved qualifying education provider for CA

  • Comprehensive Tax Course – 2021 Edition is Better than Ever, with Revised Content, Practical Pointers, & More!
  • CA State Supplement Available
  • Surgent ITS Support by Email
  • Certificate of Completion after each of the four modules
  • FREE 6-Hour AFTR Course
  • Also available in a 2-course bundle or as part of a certificate program

Get the FREE 3-Day Trial Now

Seek Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

The IRS has a program for providing assistance to low-to-moderate-income individuals with their tax returns. This program is called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). Volunteers specifically trained by the IRS help taxpayers answer their tax questions and prepare their tax returns. There is a special emphasis in this program on helping low-income taxpayers understand what possible advantages the tax code may include for individuals specifically in their situation, like how to claim the earned income credit (EITC) and the child tax credit.

Help is available for free to qualified taxpayers. Individuals typically qualify based on their income; for tax year 2022, if your income does not exceed $58,000, you may qualify for assistance through VITA. The tax preparers that work for VITA are volunteers, and they may not have professional-level tax training, so it's possible they may not always give correct advice. In addition, their training is typically only intended to help with relatively simple tax returns.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tax Certification

Anyone with a PTIN can work as a tax preparer. Attorneys and certified public accountants automatically become tax preparers with unlimited representation rights upon receiving licensure from their state. Enrolled agents, licensed by the IRS, can also be tax preparers.
The credentials for certified tax preparers vary. Licensed attorneys need no extra credentials. Individuals looking to work as tax professionals can either or an enrolled agent. EAs only need to pass the SEE, while CPAs need to pass the Uniform CPA Examination and complete educational and professional requirements set by their state.
A CPA holds unlimited representation rights as a tax preparer. They can specialize in tax preparation or focus on financial advisory and accounting. Other certified tax preparers — like enrolled agents — focus exclusively on tax preparation. Both CPAs and EAs hold the same rights before the IRS, but their focuses may differ.
EA candidates can take any part of the exam four times in each testing window (typically May to February). Individuals can retake the CPA exam as many times as needed, but most states expect candidates to pass each section within 18 months.

Featured Image: Natee Meepian / iStock / Getty Images Plus

About This Article

Co-authored by: Darron Kendrick, CPA, MA Financial Advisor This article was co-authored by Darron Kendrick, CPA, MA. Darron Kendrick is an Adjunct Professor of Accounting and Law at the University of North Georgia. He received his Masters degree in tax law from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2012, and his CPA from the Alabama State Board of Public Accountancy in 1984. This article has been viewed 75,890 times. 43 votes – 81% Co-authors: 15 Updated: September 15, 2021 Views: 75,890 Categories: Accountancy Careers

Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 75,890 times.


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