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Contrary to common belief, only two states in the U.S. require tax preparers to be licensed. With the exception of Oregon and California, a person is not required to be individually licensed to receive a fee for income tax preparation services. However, many states have business license requirements.
Obtaining a Business License
Apply for a state business license. Even though your state may not require you to be individually licensed to prepare taxes, you may need a license to operate a business. Start by contacting your secretary of state or department of revenue. Ask a representative if a tax preparation business falls under a business license category. If so, obtain the application documents and read through them carefully.
Thoroughly complete the state business license paperwork. Compile everything you need to satisfy each license requirement. You may need your personal and corporate financial records if you have them and a business plan if you've created one. Complete each page carefully. Send your application back to the appropriate state office. In some states, you may apply for a license online using a credit card to pay for any application fees.
Obtain a local business license. Depending on your city's laws, you may need a local license to sell your tax preparation services. Contact your city government for the appropriate forms if your city requires local licenses. As with state applications, each form must be completed carefully.
California Tax Preparer License Requirements
Complete pre-licensing training. This course on preparing tax returns for others is required in California. The course consists of training on state and federal income tax law (see Resources) and can be done online or in classroom settings. You must complete 60 hours of training.
Get bonded. California law requires each preparer to purchase a tax preparer bond (minimum of $5,000). Contact your auto insurance company to purchase your bond, which will cost you about 3 percent of the bond amount. If your agent does not sell bond products, use a surety company.
Register as a new preparer. After you complete your pre-licensing course, you must register as a new tax preparer with the California Tax Education Council. Visit the agency website and follow the instructions. Registration is relatively straightforward.
Oregon Tax Preparer Licensing Process
Make sure you meet the Oregon age and general education requirements. You must be at least 18 to apply for a tax preparer license in Oregon. You must also be a high school graduate or have obtained a General Education Diploma or other high school equivalency certificate. If you need to obtain a GED, find a testing center in your area, take the necessary course and pass the required examination.
Enroll in a state-approved tax school. Oregon law requires tax preparer applicants to complete 80 hours of income tax law training. Contact the Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners for a list of courses and state-approved training facilities (see Resources).
Pass the Oregon tax preparer test. After you've completed 80 hours of training, contact the Board of Tax Practitioners and register for the state examination. You must pass the state test with a minimum score of 75 percent. Prepare thoroughly before taking the examination.
Complete your application. After you've completed your training and passed your state test, obtain a copy of the tax preparer license application from the Board of Tax Practitioners (see Resources). Complete each section carefully. Attach educational documents, including a copy of your high school diploma or GED, training course certificate and proof you passed the state examination. Send your application to the licensing board. Expect to receive your license in 30 to 60 days.
Never operate without a business or tax preparer license. Doing so can result in fines, license denial and criminal prosecution.
Jim Hagerty is a writer and journalist who began writing professionally in 1996. He has had articles published in the "Rock River Times," "Builder's Journal" and various websites. He earned a Bachelor of Science in public relations and journalism from Northern Michigan University in Marquette.