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Tax Preparer

Self-employed tax preparers can net big bucks year-round -- or have a booming part-time career.

Tax preparers are number-crunching experts. These talented people take our annual incomes, deductions and receipts and transform them into government-friendly returns.

They can expertly wrangle their way around ever-changing tax laws, counsel you on tax issues and help you find deductions you never knew you had. In short, a tax preparer can be your best friend.

"Taxes, once you understand the logic of the system, [are] an easy puzzle to solve," says tax preparer Eva Rosenberg.

"Once I stopped having to memorize useless numbers that change every year, once I was able to work on how to use the code to my clients' advantage, it became fun. I love challenges -- outwitting the government using their own rules is a real kick."

In the United States, enrolled agents are the only tax professionals aside from certified public accountants who can represent you in front of the Internal Revenue Service.

Rosenberg, an enrolled agent, enjoys a glamorous clientele. "Many of my clients are in the entertainment industry. Some as grunts, others as chief executives at major studios," says Rosenberg.

This is one career that has education choices. Enrolled agent training is one way to pursue a tax preparation career. According to Sharon Cranford, director of government relations and public affairs for the National Association of Enrolled Agents, there are approximately 35,000 enrolled agents worldwide.

However, there are many other ways you can learn your tax-wielding craft -- from formal university training to short vocational courses.

Easy startup has one major downfall -- increased competition. Many people combine tax preparation with bookkeeping services, or work only during tax season, so it's hard to estimate the total number of tax-savvy folks. Plus, preparers compete against affordable, do-it-yourself tax software.

However, with the right marketing plan and a powerful combination of smarts and education, tax preparers can net a pretty penny.

What's one way to beat your competition? Find a unique, marketable niche and go for it. Rosenberg has an information-packed website. She also gives interviews on TV and radio shows and publishes various tax-related articles. Although she enjoys success, tax preparation was not her first career choice.

"I resisted my father's efforts to get me to study bookkeeping and clerical skills because I felt they would limit me to women's positions in the future," she says.

"I had read a Reader's Digest article when I was around 12 about the few women who had achieved professional positions. Often, the men would toss them the clerical work on the team and they would take the glory. I grew up knowing I didn't want that to happen to me."

Rosenberg soon realized, despite her initial dislike of "women's positions," she had a marketable skill. She studied bookkeeping in college, discovering her natural affinity for numbers. Then, fate stepped in.

"Upon graduation, my first full-time, permanent job was with a national CPA firm. They offered me a job starting on January 2, and I was told to know how to do taxes by that date. So, I took out my textbooks and, after falling asleep often, I mastered enough to be able to start the job. The rest is history."

Soon, Rosenberg hankered to be her own boss. She knew that fledgling entrepreneurs need to hustle hard for valuable clients (and cash). "I quit my job and got part-time work to cover living expenses. Then I ran an ad in our community association's newsletter and one in the local, small-town newspaper, and joined lots of women's networking groups. It started slowly.

"But by the second year, I had learned about press releases. So I started to organize small workshops for people who wanted to file their own returns. I sent out press releases and got them picked up in several newspapers. Pretty soon, I had a base of clients and they started referring their friends."

Today, Rosenberg enjoys national clients who drive hundreds of miles for her tax expertise. "Returns are mailed in to my office from all over the country. We take phone calls. We help people out with their personal problems, their tax problems, investment issues, and generally have a grand time," Rosenberg says with a laugh.

She prides herself on her knowledgeable service and thrilled clients. "I do a good job. No, I do a great job! My clients tell their friends. All my clients come from referrals. And I treat my clients like warm friends."

Don't expect that reading a tax book will make you an expert. Skittery clients need to know you're an experienced, tax-savvy professional. "If you want to sell your services to the public, you need some education. At least take a basic tax course," warns tax preparer Kirsten Simpson.

It will cost you around $5,000 to set up your office, plus additional funds for training and supplies, but you'll finally have the freedom to be your own boss.

"Being self-employed, I get to pick the clients. I only keep people who I really like and respect. The rest I either send away or refer to others. I have met the most wonderful, unusual and interesting people," says Rosenberg.

Now that's one non-taxable benefit that's worth its weight in gold.


National Association of Enrolled Agents
An organization of tax experts

Internal Revenue Service
Learn the latest U.S. rules and regulations

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.