What Should I Look for in a CPE Tax Webinar? Top Tips from the Pros
When it comes to the world of finance, there are a lot of career options. But there’s one field that’s both incredibly challenging, and simultaneously highly rewarding for those choose to pursue it: tax services. Clients come in with a mess of receipts, budgets, balance sheets (if you’re lucky), and other data that they’ve collected over the course of the year. You sit down and take the time to work through all of the microscopic details associated with their particular scenario, and finally arrive at an understanding of their current situation: what they’ll owe, or what they can expect in terms of a refund. Some clients come into your office a few days before the filing deadline, both apologetic and stressed at the prospect of getting their taxes filed on time. You step in, work them in at the last minute, and solve their crisis (for which they’re profusely grateful). Other clients come to you because they’re being audited, and they don’t know what to do or how to proceed. For these clients, you offer a wealth of information as an authority in your field. They likely express a sense of relief after working with you. And, once the end of April comes, you’re relieved, too: you can finally take a break, collect yourself, and prepare for the rush of the tax season to come.
As a professional in this field, you might be employed in any one of a variety of occupations. Each professional has their own level of specialization and authoritative domain in the world of tax services.
A significant proportion of tax professionals work as Enrolled Agents (EA). As an EA, your focus is strictly and entirely on preparation of tax documents. If you’ve gone down this route, you’ll have taken and passed a number of tests administered by the IRS. These tests ensure your level of knowledge when it comes to the tax code. Additionally, in order to keep up with your licensure as an EA, you’ll be required to obtain a minimum number of Continuing Professional Education, or CPE hours, on a regular basis. Currently, the requirement is 72 hours over the course of every three years. Keeping up with this continuing education is essential to demonstrating that you’re maintaining up-to-date knowledge of changes to the code.
Alternatively, you could be a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. If so, you’re likely registered with a licensing board in your state. Many of these boards mandate that your keep up with a minimum number of CPE credits as well. As a CPA, you might offer tax-related services to your clients alongside a significant amount of other accounting- and finance-related services, such as bookkeeping, various accounting services, and more.
Some professionals in the field are tax attorneys, who specialize in law as it relates to dealings with the IRS. In this occupation, you likely provide a wide array of services to your clients. While educational requirements are different in every state, you’ll likely have to continue your education according to annual minimums as well. Unlike EAs and CPAs, however, your annual requirements are expressed as Continuing Legal Education, or CLE hours. These CLE hours are important to maintaining a cutting edge level of knowledge in the realm of taxes, just as CPAs and EAs need CPE hours.
Or, it may be that you don’t fall into any of the above categories. In that case, you might simple be an official tax preparer: someone who’s a registered IRS Annual Filing Season Program Participant. As an AFSP participant, you’ll need continuing education as well. In your case, altogether you’ll need an Annual Federal Tax Refresher course, along with 10 hours in miscellaneous topics and 2 hours in ethics.
It’s easy to see how important CPE courses are to your professional development, not to mention maintaining your license. There’s no question that in-person tax seminars are the best way to fulfill these requirements. You receive a large number of hours at once; you’re often given print materials to work from; you have a live teacher in front of you to answer your questions; and, overall, your retention rate and general experience will be optimal.
That said, though, not everyone can manage to obtain their annual CPE credit requirements via in-person tax seminars. It can be costly to travel to and from, especially if you’re having to cover long distances in order to find the classes you need. Additionally, in-person offerings sometimes cover a limited range of topics, and you might be looking for something more unusual or a bit more interesting. And, of course, there’s the fact that attending an in-person class can be fairly inconvenient: it might require multiple days of dedicated travel to and from, not to mention the full day (or more) spent in a classroom.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative to the in-person seminar: CPE webinars. A tax webinar can be an excellent choice if you don’t have the time or money for in-person classes, or if you’re looking for a particular topic that’s not offered anywhere near you. That said, though, not all online providers of taxation courses are reputable. How do you know whether a particular webinar is the right choice for you? We’ve compiled this guide of what to look for in a quality CPE webinar. Take a look at our top tips, and you’ll be well on your way to an excellent educational experience.
Qualified, engaging presenters
We all know that a good instructor is essential to a great course. Content is king, as they say; however, without the right teacher, that content might be hard to assimilate. We’ll get to the importance of content later in this article. For now, let’s focus on what a quality instructor looks like, how to identify whether or not a tax webinar offers one.
The tax code is exceedingly complex, as you already know. There are some aspects of it which can be quite difficult to understand, especially when it comes to annual changes and updates. Oftentimes, these yearly alterations take the form of small changes to pre-existing sections of the code, and understanding how things have shifted can be a challenge. This is why having a great instructor is so paramount to a solid outcome when taking a CPE course, particularly with an online one. Some tax webinars are poorly presented, with someone simply reading through slides and doing a lousy job of responding to students’ questions. A good instructor will take the time to stop and address concerns in a clear, easily understandable manner.
That said, how do you assess whether an instructor is a good one or not before you actually sign up for an online class? Ask yourself a few questions:
Do they bring real-life experience to the table?
A university education and classroom training are important, but actual experience in real life is often even more essential. After all, when you’re taking a class related to the tax code, a lot of questions regarding your daily lived experience at work are going to crop up. This will likely be the case regardless of whether you’re a CPA, an EA, an attorney, or a tax preparer. When evaluating an instructor, ask yourself: have they worked with a lot of clients in the past? Do they currently run a practice of some kind, or have they at some point? If the answer to these questions is yes, then that instructor will probably be able to address your real world questions fairly easily. If the answer is no, you might encounter some problems when seeking answers to common day-to-day issues.
Are they qualified on paper?
Perhaps your teacher is an EA, in which case they likely have a depth of tax-related knowledge. If they’re a CPA, they may still be a wealth of information; however, some CPAs focus on a much wider range of topics than simply those that relate to the IRS, and may not be prepared to teach a highly specialized course. When did the instructor first receive their credentials? Are they still actively involved in the profession? What sort of university degrees to they have (or lack)? Are they considered an authority in the field?
Are they going to keep things engaging?
Whether or not a class is “fun” is, admittedly, probably less important than whether the teacher is qualified, or whether the content is on point. However, it’s still significant enough to consider. When you’re sitting at work, or perhaps in your home office, distractions abound. Will the instructor be able to keep your attention during the webinar? Or will your attention wander, leaving you wondering what was covered as the class draws to a close? An engaging instructor is hard to gauge in advance of signing up; however, many providers offer reviews of their classes, and some even advertise their retention rate, or the number of professionals who attend their courses year after year. These companies are your best bet in terms of finding a qualified provider.
Affordability and Range of Topics
While top quality teachers are essential, they’re not the only thing that matters. After all, a tax webinar can be absolutely phenomenal; but, if you can’t afford the price tag, it’s a moot point. Remember, there’s not always a 1:1 correlation between price and quality. In fact, some less reputable online providers charge extraordinarily high prices for content that’s not up to snuff. Keep this in mind when browsing courses, and ensure that you find a balance between quality and affordability.
Additionally, a provider with a wide range of topics available is highly desirable. Why? Because if you have a positive experience with your first class, then you can go back to that provider repeatedly for future classes, rather than having to hunt around for a new company because you’re exhausted that provider’s short list of topics and classes. One of the biggest advantages of tax webinars over seminars is the range of topics offered. When selecting an online company, look for one that has a range of interesting classes available.
Up-to-Date Tax Information
We know you’re already well aware of the fact that there are significant changes made to the tax code on an annual basis. You’re also familiar with how detailed these new regulations can be, and how challenging it sometimes is to commit them to memory (or to even make sense of them in the first place).
Given this reality, you should make certain that any time you spend acquiring online CPE hours is allocated to a company that provides professionals like you with up-to-date information. In other words, don’t waste your time, money, and energy on courses that aren’t prioritizing the incorporation of annual changes to the tax code. In fact, some of the best providers out there make a point of offering a range of CPE webinars that center around annual IRS-related updates. Any company offering online classes that doesn’t seem to regularly update its roster is probably not worth your time.
If you take a moment to run a Google search, you’ll see a ton of companies offering tax seminars, and even more that host online tax webinars. The latter are our focus here; and, when you browse through these companies’ websites, you’ll see one thing that many of them have in common: they don’t hold any kind of national certification. Their classes haven’t been evaluated or approved by any national body related to accounting, tax law, or the like. These companies are essentially offering online classes which it’s impossible to evaluate the validity of in advance.
Indeed, if a company hasn’t gone to the trouble to have its courses certified, then there’s no way to ensure that the content is worth your time and energy. Even more importantly, these classes are unlikely to satisfy any of your licensing requirements. This is true regardless of your occupation within the tax services field. For example, as a CPA, your licensure requirements will vary from state to state. One state may have very strict requirements that force you to obtain a massive number of CPE hours each year. Another may be more lax, and require just a handful by comparison. In either case, though, there’s a very good chance that your state requires your CPE credits be approved by either the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, or NASBA, and/or the state licensing body itself. This means that ensuring any online class you take is from an NASBA-approved provider is absolutely essential. This is true regardless of whether you’re a tax preparer, a lawyer, a CPA, or an EA: NASBA approval is incredibly important.
Delivery Platform and User Experience
Lastly, there’s the issue of the actual delivery platform associated with the webinar itself. In other words: it’s essential that the company offering the webinar uses a platform that provides a solid user experience. This means very few technical issues for users (or, ideally, none at all); ease of accessibility; and effectiveness of presentation. Learning online presents challenges that aren’t associated with in-person training. It can be challenging to get an instructor’s attention, or communicate questions effectively. A class with a top-notch delivery platform will get around these kinds of problems, and provide you with the education you need.
Don’t be afraid to ask a company about their user experience, and what platform they’re using. User reviews are a great way to assess what your online experience will be like in advance. If a class has received great reviews, then things have likely gone smoothly on the technical side of things.
Basics & Beyond™: The Best CPE Webinars Available Anywhere
Without question, Basics & Beyond offers the highest quality CPE webinars anywhere. If you’re looking to fulfill your annual CPE hours online, we’re the clear choice. Why? Take a look at what sets us apart:
Engaging teachers with expertise in the industry
There are quite a few tax webinars out there with questionable instructors. Meanwhile, all of our classes are taught by industry leaders with excellent reputations in the field.
It doesn’t matter how good a course is if you can’t afford it. With this in mind, we’ve focused on making our classes both high quality as well as affordable. We’ve succeeded, and you can expect your experience with us to be top tier without breaking the bank.
A number of other online providers offer a very limited range of topics. Considering that online CPE webinars often only count for one hour of credit, you’ll exhaust their list of classes in a short amount of time. We pride ourselves on offering a wide range of highly engaging topics. Take a look at our upcoming schedule to see for yourself.
Excellent user experience
User experience and platform stability are the foundation of a quality online class. We’ve gone to great lengths to offer the best user experience available anywhere online. In fact, our webinar platform is so streamlined that you can use it on your phone or mobile device.
Our online classes are updated regularly. What does this mean for you? When you enroll in one of our online classes, you’re guaranteed to be presented with the most up-to-date information available anywhere. That means better outcomes for your clients.
Certificate and IRS Reporting Included
At Basics & Beyond, we do things differently. Once you’ve finished one of our webinars, we present you with a certificate of completion verifying that you’ve attended the class. And, if you have a Paid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), we’ll report your completed hours to the IRS ourselves on your behalf. This saves you a lot of hassle, and it’s included with all of our webinars.
If you’re going to dedicate your time to an online class, it’s important that it be offered by a NASBA-approved online provider. Basics & Beyond is proud to be recognized by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) as a member of the National Registry of CPE Sponsors. Whether you’re an EA, a CPA, a tax preparer, or an attorney, our courses are designed to fulfill your state licensing requirements.