Providing professional tax services to the public is challenging, rewarding work. You might spend days pouring over a client’s return, working through the details and minutiae of their finances in order to arrive at the fundamentals underlying their tax picture. Or, a client might approach you who’s being audited and needs assistance. For people in this situation, you’re a source of authority, knowledge, and comfort: they know that they can trust you to advise them in the best way to handle a complex and stressful situation. And then, of course, there are those clients who come in seeking last minute tax advice, and you squeeze them in before the filing deadline to the best of your ability. Once the mid-April day of reckoning is past, you breathe a brief sigh of relief, and can look forward to a (slightly) less hectic schedule in the months to come.
There are a variety of different positions that one might hold in the realm of tax preparation, and when it comes to advising clients.
You might be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). You’re registered with your state licensing board, many of which require that you continue your education from year to year in order to keep up with CPA license requirements. You provide tax preparation and advising services to clients, but you also have to balance this knowledge and set of offerings with a wider skill set: general accounting, bookkeeping, and so on.
Perhaps you’re an Enrolled Agent. In this case, you’re had to pass a series of exams proctored by the IRS. In order to maintain this status, you’re expected to obtain 72 hours of Continuing Professional Education, or CPE hours, every three years. This educational component is important to maintaining your level of expertise as a tax preparer.
If you’re a tax attorney, then you might provide an incredibly wide scope of services to your clients. Requirements will vary by state, but you’ll also be required to keep up with changes in tax law. In your case, though, you’ll need to receive a requisite number of Continuing Legal Education, or CLE hours, each year (or sometimes every two or three years). Just as with EAs and CPAs, it’s essential to learn everything you can from year to year as the tax code shifts and changes.
Lastly, you may be a tax preparer who doesn’t fit one of the above descriptions. Perhaps you’re an IRS Annual Filing Season Program Participant, and use this credential to assure your clients of your professional standards. You, too, will need to ensure that you obtain a minimum number of CPE credits each year: a 6 hour Annual Federal Tax Refresher course, as well as 2 hours of ethics and 10 hours in other topics.
As you can see, then, income tax courses are essential to every occupation in the field. Without a doubt, the best way to meet your annual requirements is through in-person tax seminars. But, how do you ensure that the program you attend is of a high enough quality? Read on, and we’ll tell you the top 5 things to look for in a tax seminar.
Qualified, engaging presenters
It goes without saying that one of the most important components of a good course is a top notch instructor. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of a taxation course. The content itself is essential to consider, too, and we’ll get to that later on in this article. First and foremost, though, a successful class involves the leadership of an excellent instructor.
As you’re already aware, the tax code is incredibly detailed, nuanced, and complex. And, let’s be honest: sometimes, it’s a flat out headache. Keeping up with changes from year to year is easier said than done. Often, new and amended sections of the tax code involve very small, subtle alterations in existing regulations. Having a knowledgeable, friendly teacher who can answer your questions is essential. Anyone can read slides from a PowerPoint presentation. Not everyone can listen, understand your question, and provide you with the detailed, crystal clear answer that you need.
So, what do you look for in an instructor of an income tax course? Consider a few things:
What are their professional qualifications?
Is the instructor a CPA? If so, does their practice focus largely on taxes? Not all CPAs are concerned with the IRS. Some of them focus on a wide array of other tasks related to account. If the teacher is an EA, then they’re more likely to be an expert. However, there are still some things to consider. How long have they been practicing? What’s their educational background? Do they hold advanced degrees? The answers to these questions will help you assess their level of expertise as an instructor.
Do they have real world experience?
Formal education is great, but real world experience is just as important (if not moreso). When you’re in the middle of a class, you’ll likely have a lot of questions come up related to the realities of your day-to-day practice. This is true regardless of your occupation within the wider scope of the profession. Is the instructor someone who maintains (or has maintained in the past) a busy practice of their own? Are they familiar with working with a wide range of clients? If so, they’ll likely be able to answer your questions with ease. If not, you may run into trouble when it comes to the kinds of practical issues that crop up when working with clients on a daily basis.
Can they keep things interesting?
This might seem less important than an instructor’s qualifications. And, to some degree, it is. However, it’s worth remembering that a CPE course can last for an entire day (or sometimes a whole weekend). If the person teaching the course isn’t engaging, you’re not going to retain information. Why? Because after the first couple of hours, your attention will begin to drift significantly. Before you know it, an hour will have passed and you’ll be wondering what was even discussed. While it’s not always possible to assess an instructor’s ability to keep things interesting in advance of the course itself, you can often look at reviews of past courses to get a sense of how a company’s teaching professionals are regarded. Is the retention rate high? If people come back year after year to attend courses with the same company and pool of instructors, that’s a good sign.
Assuming a class is being taught by a credible, talented, engaging professional, you’re on the right track. However, there are other things to consider as well.
The Latest Topics for the New Tax Year
As you’re already aware, changes to the code are implemented each year. These changes are often incredibly nuanced, and require careful study in order to understand them fully and be able to articulate them to clients. Indeed, one of the biggest reasons that clients come to professionals like you for their annual preparation needs is specifically because of how time consuming it would be to keep up with changes to the law each year on their own. They’re busy with their own occupation, and don’t have the time, energy, or other resources necessary to become an expert. That’s why they turn to you.
With that in mind, it’s absolutely essential that any CPE hours you obtain are provided as part of a tax seminar that’s presenting the latest, most updated information. Make sure that the company and instructors mention in their literature that the course will cover recent changes to the tax code, particularly those relevant to the new year. In fact, the best companies will offer taxation course topics each year that are targeted specifically at legislative updates and changes to the code for that year. If a company doesn’t seem interested in keeping up with these kinds of changes, then they’re unlikely to provide you with the kind of up-to-date information that you need in order to stay abreast of developments in your field.
Affordable Pricing and Convenient
Quality instructors are paramount, and information that’s up to date is just as important. But what else makes for a good course? Quality isn’t just a question of top notch teachers and good material. It also involves a balance between those factors on the one hand, and affordability and convenience on the other. A taxation course taught by the best instructors in the country, offering the most up-to-date information available can’t be said to be relevant to you if it’s located thousands of miles away and costs an arm and a leg.
It’s important, then, to ensure that any course you’re considering is offered at a reasonable price. “Reasonable” might mean something different to you depending upon what you’re able to budget to annual education expenses. However, if a class feels like a budgetary strain, you may be better offer looking for other opportunities. Similarly, you should be able to find a course nearby that works for you. You may have to do some driving within your state, or even cross state lines. But, if you’re looking at flying across the country, there are likely more convenient options for you to look into. And, if there aren’t any classes in a convenient location, you might consider an online webinar.
Certified by NASBA
Aside from excellent teachers, a focus on presenting timely, up-to-date information, and a good balance of affordability and convenience, what else is important when looking at your options for CPE hours? If you browse the web, you’ll see that there are a lot of online companies offering tax seminars. A Google search will turn up myriad results. Some of these companies offer in-person seminars; many more focus strictly on online webinar offerings. If you dig deeper, though, you’ll notice something important: many of these businesses are not registered with or approved by any sort of national organization. No one has evaluated their taxation course material and given it a stamp of approval.
This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, there’s no way to really assess the legitimacy or worthiness of the materials presented in the class. How do you know if what’s being covered is done so in-depth? Secondly though, and perhaps more importantly, these kinds of classes won’t satisfy various licensing requirements. Depending on your state, for example, there will be different CPA requirements: some states require that a CPA obtain a relatively small number of CPE hours per year; others require a higher number. In many cases, however, state licensing boards mandate that all CPE credits come from courses approved by that state board, and/or by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, or NASBA. Taking a NASBA-approved course means that you’ll have an easier time satisfying your licensing requirements, whether you’re a CPA, an EA, an attorney, or a tax preparer. So, when you’re looking for a tax seminar, ensure that the provider is approved by NASBA.
If you’ve found a class that’s taught by excellent professionals, covers recent changes to the code, offers classes at affordable prices and in convenient locations, and is provided by a NASBA-certified company, then you’re well on your way to selecting a quality provider of CPE hours. There’s one last thing worth considering, though: physical course materials. Now, this may sound small. To some people, it is. There are those who shun the idea of paper class materials: they don’t want to lug them home, or put them on a bookshelf in the office.
However, there are significant advantages to print materials. A quality course will provide you with a binder or textbook of some kind that includes a summary of all the information presented in that class. This allows you to follow along throughout the day without exhausting yourself in an attempt to write down every single thing that’s covered. Additionally, though, a printed course component means that you can review materials that evening, or look back in the days following the seminar to refresh your memory. This means a higher rate of retention, which ultimately means that you’ve gotten your money’s worth from the class (and, more importantly, that you’ll be able to put the information to use for your clients). Choose providers that offer print materials with their programs: you’ll be glad you did.
Basics & Beyond™: The Best Choice for Your CPE Hours
Basics & Beyond is hands down the best option in the industry for CPE hours. We offer the highest quality, most comprehensive classes available. What makes us the best? Just take a look at what we offer.
Top tier professional speakers
Unlike some fly-by-night providers, all of our classes are taught by tax and accounting experts with real world experience. That’s one of the reasons that more than 90% of professionals come back year after year to continue their education with us.
Reasonable pricing to fit any budget
Quality of instructors and materials is important, but so is affordability. Our seminars are reasonably priced, and designed to fit a wide range of budgets. There’s no need to sacrifice quality for affordability: you can have both.
Free textbook included with all seminars
We believe it’s important to provide all of our attendees with up-to date materials. This enables you to follow along during the class, and review the information presented afterwards. All of our programs include a free, comprehensive electronic textbook as part of the experience. A physical copy can be purchased separately.
We pride ourselves on offering seminars covering up-to-date tax topics. Each year, we offer classes covering ethics, professional responsibility, a full update of the tax code, an overview any new rules and regulations in your state, and more. We provide a Topical Update seminar every September and October, and a Year-End Update seminar in December. The latter is geared towards ensuring that you’re ready for the following year with the latest information.
Official NASBA Provider
It’s important to ensure that any class you allocate your time, money, and energy to is offered by a NASBA-approved provider. Basics & Beyond, Inc. is registered with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) as a sponsor of continuing professional education, as part of the National Registry of CPE Sponsors. This means that our courses will count towards your licensing requirements, whether you’re a CPA, an EA, an attorney, or a tax preparer.