Interested in keeping money out of the government's hands? Consider a seasonal job as a tax-preparation professional. Each year, large tax-preparation firms such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt train and employ thousands of people to prepare tax returns in their storefront offices.
H&R Block hires 80,000 tax professionals to work from January until the end of April. Ninety percent of them have taken the company's income tax course, which is offered every September and is available in both English and Spanish, says Kathy Burlison, director of tax implementation for H&R Block. The cost varies by location, and many offices offer early-bird registration specials and weekend classes. Although the course typically runs 11 weeks, an accelerated version can be completed in less time. The entire course is 69 hours.
Jackson Hewitt's tax training course generally meets twice a week for six weeks; self-paced and instructor-facilitated online training is also available. A more advanced, professional income tax course runs nine weeks. Each Jackson Hewitt office sets its own tuition rate, which is often free. You pay only for books and supplies.
While most of the people hired for seasonal tax positions come out of training classes, taking the class won't guarantee you a job. You must be hired by a Jackson Hewitt franchise owner or H&R Block.
Seasonal tax work appeals to stay-at-home parents, students and retirees, who often prefer hours outside the 9-to-5 workday. "The best thing about this job is the flexibility it offers," Burlison says. "We're looking for talented individuals with strong people skills who have some flexibility in their schedules, who can work days, weekends or evenings."
Many seasonal tax workers have other jobs they work year-round. For them, tax-preparation work adds a second shift during tax season, so their total workday might last 12 to 14 hours. Despite the long hours, tax preparers are retail employees, so you'll need to be easygoing and able to deal with many different personalities.
You won't have to memorize the entire tax code to do the job. "Our computer program takes care of that," promises Burlison. But you will have to keep up on the latest tax changes by taking a refresher course each fall, she adds.
H&R Block tax professionals are paid based on a commission formula. In addition to an hourly rate (average starting rate is $9 per hour), consideration is given to such factors as the number and complexity of the tax returns you prepare, as well as your length of time with the company and the additional educational credits you earn each year.
Do Your Own Thing
If you have an entrepreneurial streak, you can launch your own career as a tax professional quite easily. With a $500 investment, nearly anyone can set up an Internet site and become an online tax preparer, says John Carr, CPA. He should know, because he's president of Taxcite.com, an online tax-preparation Web site.
If you really want to succeed in the field, build up a loyal, local client base. "Tax preparation is really a personal business," Carr says. "You develop a relationship between the person [doing the taxes] and the client."
The tax-preparation business isn't heavily regulated. Only California and Oregon require tax preparers (who aren't attorneys, CPAs or IRS-enrolled agents) to register with the state, says Celeste Heritage of the California Tax Education Council. If you aren't a CPA, an attorney or an enrolled agent, you must take a 60-hour class from an approved school before you can prepare people's tax returns for pay in California.
Outside California and Oregon, you're not required to register, so you can just hang out a shingle and start preparing taxes -- assuming you can find customers.
Whether you go with a local tax-preparation firm or seek business on your own, the one thing you can be sure of is that every year, as January winds blow, 1099s will show up in mailboxes across the country. Learn to prepare taxes this fall, and you'll likely have extra cash and one more 1099 coming your way next year.