Taxes are undeniably a big part of the field of public accounting. If you’re thinking about focusing your accounting education and career on taxation, you’re in good company. About 60 percent of Americans hire someone – an accountant, tax attorney or tax preparation business – to file their income tax returns, according to U.S. News & World Report. Upwards of one million Americans work in the field of tax preparation, and professional tax preparers outnumber firefighters and police officers combined in the U.S. While you don’t necessarily need a specialized degree in tax accounting to work as a tax preparer, having one can help you secure better positions, acquire more clients or earn a higher salary. Most specialized tax accounting degree programs are master’s degree programs.
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Taxation Coursework in Undergraduate Programs
Because taxes are such an important and universal part of accounting in the United States, students of any undergraduate accounting program can expect to complete at least some coursework that focuses on taxation. Many undergraduate accounting programs include a course on the fundamentals of taxation or income tax accounting. Other schools offer more focused classes, such as business income tax and individual income tax. Though tax accounting is not a distinct major, some bachelor’s in accounting programs offer taxation as an optional concentration or area of focus students can pursue during their undergraduate education. Students who choose this educational path may devote their elective courses to taking classes such as topics in income taxation.
Some undergraduate accounting programs include a hands-on component in which accounting students complete and file real federal and state tax returns for college credit.
Why Study Tax at the Graduate Level
If you are already learning the basics of taxation while earning your undergraduate accounting degree, you might wonder what the benefit is of pursuing a master’s degree program in tax accounting. Tax regulations are notoriously complicated in the United States, so there is certainly plenty of content left to study to fill a graduate certificate or master’s degree curriculum. In fact, as tax regulations change frequently, even tax accountants who have a master’s degree need to continue to keep abreast of new tax laws throughout their careers.
One particular reason why a tax accountant may want to go to graduate school is to work toward attaining a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. You do not need a master’s degree to become a CPA, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, you do need more education than a traditional bachelor’s degree program can provide. In most of the U.S., state laws require CPAs to have 150 semester hours of college study rather than the 120 semester hours needed to earn your bachelor’s degree. Many aspiring CPAs choose to use that additional year to pursue a master’s degree, simultaneously preparing for future management roles that they may want to attain.
The Internal Revenue Code has long been criticized for its complexity. Rumors claim that the tax code is thousands – or even tens of thousands – of pages long. The code’s complexity makes it hard to differentiate between active regulations and historical background information.
Curricula in Master’s Degree Programs in Tax Accounting
Once you get to graduate school, your courses will be more advanced and more specialized than the classes you took as an undergraduate student. It’s not unusual for tax accounting students to take some advanced studies in general accounting subjects, such as advanced topics in financial reporting, advanced auditing, advanced accounting theory and advanced financial management.
To truly develop expertise in the field of tax accounting, graduate students take coursework in taxation topics of all kinds. Example classes include estate taxation, gift taxation, tax practice and procedures, regulation of tax practice, corporate income taxation, partnership taxation, taxation of pass-through entities, tax research, tax planning and international taxation. Some master’s degree programs in taxation, designed for adults already working in tax accounting, are offered online or on a modified schedule so that students will have a break from classes during the busiest weeks of tax season.
Human resources consulting firm Robert Half reports $69,000 starting salaries for tax accountants with one to three years of experience, $85,000 salaries for senior tax accountants and $105,000 salaries for tax accountants in management.