Best Tax Preparation Courses

Learn how to prepare taxes

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Tax preparation courses can help beginner and experienced tax preparers advance their careers by providing information and curriculum on everything from basic knowledge to Enrolled Agent (EA) exam prep to continuing education credits. 

The best tax preparation courses are offered by reputable companies, come with an affordable cost, and cover the topics needed to fill your skill or knowledge gap. We considered more than two dozen tax preparation courses before making our top choices. Read on to learn more about the best tax preparation courses.

The Best Tax Preparation Courses for 2021

Best Overall : Surgent Income Tax School

Surgent Income Tax School

Surgent Income Tax School

Why We Chose It: Tax preparation courses are available for professionals at all knowledge and experience levels at an affordable cost.

What We Like
  • Resources are available for beginning and experienced tax pros

  • Costs are affordable

  • Surgent has an excellent reputation

What We Don’t Like
  • Career services aren’t provided

  • Can take up to 18 months to complete the program

Surgent was founded in 1985 and is a leading accounting, tax, and finance education provider. The company is well known for its continuing professional education (CPE) and exam review programs (e.g., Enrolled Agent and CPA exams). It also has an Income Tax School with more than 40 online tax training programs offered nationally.

The Surgent Income Tax School offers professional tax preparation courses for individuals at all career levels, including beginners and experienced tax professionals. This includes short, three-hour CPE seminars good for tax professionals needing to maintain their certifications. It also includes comprehensive training for beginners with a high school education and no experience who want to become tax professionals. 

Costs vary depending on the courses, ranging from a low of $29 for a CPE course up to $1,497 for all five courses in its Chartered Tax Professional (CTP) program, covering beginner to advanced tax concepts. Upon CTP program completion, you’ll have the knowledge and experience necessary to prepare for the Enrolled Agent exam. 

If you opt for the CTP program, you’ll complete the program online at your own pace with access to instructor support via email. You’ll get review questions, quizzes, and other learning activities to complete, in addition to informative videos. 

You can expect it to take 12 to 18 months to complete the program.

Best for Beginners : Federal Income Tax Course by the National Tax Training School

National Tax Training School

National Tax Training School

Why We Chose It: If you have at least a high school education, you can get the training you need to become a tax preparer in a year or less from an accredited school.

What We Like
  • Only need a high school education

  • Support from a dedicated mentor

  • School is accredited and has a good reputation

What We Don’t Like
  • Can take a year to complete

  • No job placement assistance

  • Additional training is needed to become a licensed EA

The National Tax Training School was founded in 1952 and is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). Its Federal Income Tax Course is delivered nationally and covers tax return preparation for individuals and small to medium-size businesses. You need a high school education, knowledge of basic math, and the ability to follow written instructions, and the course requires no prior experience preparing taxes, making it the best tax preparation course for beginners. 

Once you enroll, you’ll be assigned a dedicated mentor who will guide you through the course. They’ll also be available to provide you with coaching or other support you need to succeed. However, it will be up to you to find tax preparation work. 

You complete the program’s 20 online modules at your own pace, which means it can be completed in as quickly as eight weeks or it could take up to a year. Expect it to take about eight hours to finish each unit. 

In addition to online resources, you’ll get the full course in hard copy format so you can have a handy reference source. 

The course costs $625 if you pay in full. Alternatively, you can pay three equal installments of $216 for a total cost of $648. These costs include a 10% discount offered related to COVID-19.

If you want, you can also continue to complete more advanced tax preparation training with the National Tax Training School, so you can ultimately become licensed by the IRS as an Enrolled Agent.

Best for Advanced : Advanced Tax Preparation by the National Tax Training School

National Tax Training School

National Tax Training School

Why We Chose It: For those experienced with preparing basic tax returns, the Advanced Tax Preparation course by National Tax Training School can teach tax pros how to prepare more complex tax returns. Plus, Enrolled Agent exam prep is included.

What We Like
  • Learn how to prepare complex tax returns

  • Access to a tax expert mentor for a year

What We Don’t Like
  • Job placement services aren’t provided

  • Can take a year to complete the program

If you know how to prepare basic tax returns and want to continue to advance in your career, the Advanced Tax Preparation course by National Tax Training School is a great option. You’ll learn how to provide a full suite of tax services (e.g., complex tax returns, tax strategy, tax consulting), and Enrolled Agent exam prep, which is typically offered as a separate program, is included. 

This online course is self-paced. It’s possible to complete it in a couple of months, but it could take a year. In addition to online materials, you’ll be given a hard copy to use as a reference guide and you’ll be assigned a course mentor who can support you with tax-related issues for up to a year.

Upon graduation, you’ll earn a certificate identifying you as a Professional Tax Consultant. If you want to become an Enrolled Agent, you’ll be ready to sit for the exam upon graduation. Getting licensed as an EA can be a great way to accelerate your tax preparation career.

If you opt for this program, the tuition is $745 if paid in full in advance. Alternatively, you can make two equal installments of $380 for a total tuition of $760.

Best for Continuing Education : National Association of Tax Professionals CPE Packages

National Association of Tax Professionals

 National Association of Tax Professionals

Why We Chose It: You can access quality CPE training from a professional organization recognized by the IRS at an affordable cost.

What We Like
  • More than 200 CPE credits included with the premium membership

  • Non-members can access some of the online CPE training

  • Professional organization recognized by the IRS

What We Don’t Like
  • Only premium members can access all the online CPE training

  • Costs are higher for non-members

The National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) was founded in 1979. It offers education and support to tax professionals nationally. If you’re a premium member, you’ll get access to all the NATP’s online CPE training for no additional cost, and even non-members of the NATP can access some of its quality continuing professional education.

You can choose from three NATP membership tiers, all of which include some CPE offerings. This is the most impressive CPE offering of the tax preparation course providers we reviewed. More details about the NATP membership tiers are provided below:

  Basic Professional Premium
Annual cost $99 $205 $660
NATP’s weekly TAXPRO journal newsletter Included Included  Included 
NATP chapter membership for networking Included  Included  Included 
Discount off non-member price for most NATP education materials, office supplies, and books 5% 25% 25%
Annual Federal Tax Refresher (AFTR) course and exam Included Included Included
EA review course for Part 1 of the exam using Gleim’s materials Included  Included  Included 
4 CPE hours of ethics and due diligence webinars Included  Included  Included 
Business practice training—4 online courses Included  Included  Included 
1-2 CPE hours of tax webinars Excluded Included Included
4 CPE hours of exams from the TAXPRO journal Excluded  Included  Included 
Answers to tax research questions from an expert Excluded One Five
Online research via the TaxBook WebLibrary Plus Excluded  Additional fee of $179 Included
Access to all NATP online CPE courses (200+ credits) Excluded  Excluded Excluded
Free shipping on products Excluded Excluded  Included 

If you aren’t an NATP member, you can purchase 10 CPE credits for courses about foreign taxes for $346 or 40 CPE credits for basic tax preparation courses for $510. Professional or basic NATP members get a fee discount of 5% to 25%. All of these courses are included in the premium NATP membership. The CPE training costs are higher for non-members. If you want to see if the NATP CPE training is right for you, a more cost-effective option is to buy the basic membership.

Best for Enrolled Agent Exam Prep : Gleim Enrolled Agent Review

Gleim

 Gleim 

Why We Chose It: You can get access to a robust library of EA review materials from a well-known provider for a reasonable cost, and the highest-cost plan includes up to 72 hours of CPE credit.

What We Like
  • Three competitive pricing tiers

  • Personalized support from a counselor with higher-cost plans

What We Don’t Like
  • No one-on-one support with the lowest-cost plan

  • Digital and physical review book only available with higher-cost plans

Gleim Exam Prep has been publishing accounting review courses since 1980. The company offers various accounting exam prep courses that are among the best in the market, including an EA review course that provides a high level of support and materials with the purchase of a Gleim EA review course. 

You can choose from three EA exam prep options ranging in cost from $379.85 to $629.95 (sometimes discounted as low as $598.45). If you buy the lowest-cost product, you’ll get access to an Enrolled Agent exam test bank and either a digital or physical copy of the review book. 

With the highest-cost plan, you’ll get a physical and digital copy of the book along with adaptive technology to guide you to areas you need to study. You’ll be able to take a full-length practice exam six times, receive personal support from a counselor, and earn up to 72 hours of CPE credit. This is helpful if you need to meet your annual CPE requirements while studying for the exam.

The amount of time it will take you to complete this course ranges from a couple of months to up to a year or longer.

Best Low-Cost Option : H&R Block Income Tax Preparation Course

H&R Block logo

 H&R Block logo

Why We Chose It: There’s no tuition, and you’ll learn how to prepare federal income taxes from an experienced tax professional.

What We Like
  • Free tuition

  • Reasonable cost for materials

  • May be able to secure a job

What We Don’t Like
  • Classes are only offered seasonally

  • Time intensive

H&R Block is a tax services company founded in 1955. It has locations throughout the United States and its territories, as well as on military bases globally. If you’re interested in exploring a career as a tax preparer, H&R Block offers a low-cost, 12-week virtual federal income tax course. You can expect to spend 80 to 90 hours of work on this course.

What made it stand out is you won’t have to pay any tuition for this course. In all states other than New York and Tennessee, you’ll need to purchase course materials. This will cost $99 if you live in Minnesota and $149 in all other states. 

You’ll need to be at least 18 to enroll. Although the specific requirements vary slightly by state, you’ll usually need to have at least a high school diploma to be admitted.

Classes open for enrollment in August each year. The goal is to teach you how to prepare taxes before the next tax season begins. You’ll learn about federal income taxes from experienced tax professionals, and may even be able to begin a career with H&R Block once you’ve completed the training. 

You may also be able to get college credit from the University of Phoenix or Western Governors University. You’ll need to reach out to an advisor at these colleges to learn how to get the credits transferred and to discuss any fees that might apply.

Best for Volunteers : IRS Link and Learn Taxes

IRS

  IRS

Why We Chose It: You can learn how to prepare taxes for free and get experience you can apply toward a license, and you can even earn continuing education credit.

What We Like
  • Free

  • Gain experiences as a tax preparer

  • Learn about taxes directly from the IRS

What We Don’t Like
  • Takes up to 30 hours to complete

  • Must pass an exam

The IRS offers free tax preparation training to volunteers as a part of its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) tax return preparation programs. The purpose of these programs is to help qualifying taxpayers file their tax returns and this is accomplished with the help of volunteers who are trained in tax preparation. 

If you want to serve as a VITA/TCE volunteer, you can get tax preparation training from the IRS for free. You can expect it to take about 30 hours to complete this training course. Before you can begin preparing taxes, you’ll need to pass the training exam with a score of at least 80%. 

If you’re an experienced tax preparer, you may also be able to earn up to 18 hours of CPE credit by volunteering in this program. In addition to preparing tax returns, you can even serve as a volunteer instructor. 

You don’t need to have prior experience to complete this training and serve as a volunteer. However, you’ll be required to adhere to high ethical standards and pass an ethics training course.

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.

Compare Providers

  Tax Prep Course   Wins For   Why We Picked It   Cost   Length of Course
Surgent Income Tax School Best Overall Tax preparation courses available for all levels of experience $29 to $1,497 12 to 18 months
Federal Income Tax Course by the National Tax Training School Best for Beginners Program will prepare you for a career in tax preparation $625 to $720 2 to 12 months
Advanced Tax Preparation by the National Tax Training School Best for Advanced Obtain the training you need to become a tax consultant and an Enrolled Agent $745 to $760 2 to 12 months
National Association of Tax Professionals CPE Packages Best for Continuing Education Premium NATP members have access to all online CPE training, and even non-members can access some trainings Access to all online training for $660 1 hour to 200+ hours
Gleim Enrolled Agent Review Best for Enrolled Agent Exam Prep Access to a robust library of exam prep resources, and you can earn CPE credit while you study $379.85 to $629.95 2 to 12+ months
H&R Block Income Tax Preparation Course Best Low-Cost Option Learn how to prepare taxes from a tax pro and possibly start a tax career Free to $149 12 weeks
IRS Link and Learn Taxes Best for Volunteers Learn how to prepare taxes for free and gain real-world tax preparation experience Free 30 hours

FAQs

What Is a Tax Preparation Course?

A tax preparation course will teach you how to prepare federal income taxes. You typically don’t need any experience to take these courses except a high school education and basic math knowledge. 

After completing a beginning tax preparation course, registering with the IRS as a tax return preparer, and receiving a preparer tax identification number (PTIN), you’ll be ready to begin your career as a tax preparer.

Who Should Enroll in a Tax Preparation Course?

Anyone interested in learning more about taxes, starting a career as a tax preparer, or advancing their tax preparation career should enroll in a tax preparation course. If you’re a beginner, this type of course will help you learn if a tax preparation career is right for you. Experienced tax preparers can advance their careers to the next level (e.g., pass the Enrolled Agent exam) or earn the CPE credits required to maintain their licenses.

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. 

How Much Money Can a Tax Preparer Make?

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), tax preparers’ median annual salary is estimated at $43,080. Overall, BLS annual tax preparer salary estimates range from a low of $21,750 to a high of $87,060.

The amount you can make as a tax preparer depends on your experience, qualifications, and geographic location. The more experience you have and the better your qualifications, the more money you’ll make. Similarly, if you live in a higher-cost area of the U.S. (e.g., California), you can expect to make more money than if you live in a lower-cost area (e.g., West Virginia).

What Will I Learn in a Tax Preparation Course?

You’ll learn how to prepare federal income tax returns for individuals and small to medium-size businesses in a basic tax preparation course. If you continue to an advanced tax preparation course, you’ll learn how to prepare more complex tax returns such as corporate tax returns. You’ll also learn how to develop tax strategies with your clients. 

Methodology

We looked at more than two dozen tax preparation courses in our search. To find the best, we considered the provider’s reputation, how much the courses cost, what topics are covered, and how long it will take you to complete each course. We also evaluated the type of instructor support you can get and if you’ll get career assistance. Additionally, we considered if they’re included in the IRS list of approved CPE providers.

All of the companies on our list are approved by the IRS as continuing professional education providers and offer tax prep training at an affordable cost.

Article Sources

  1. IRS. "Continuing Education for Tax Professionals." Accessed March 12, 2021.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Employment Statistics." Accessed March 11, 2021.