Tax preparer school
August 8, 2013 5:49 AM   Subscribe

I keep seeing CList ads for free tax prep courses. Supposedly they may offer you a job after completing the course--this seems like a weird business model. How does it work? Do they really hire these people who've had so little training?
posted by chaiminda to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Yes. See H&R Block. Basic tax prep for Joe worker with a w-2 and no itemized deductions is simply data input into software. Even some of the more detailed things like schedule D or C can be done by asking the right questions and putting it into the software.

I have no idea if the ones on Craig's List are legit, but they could be.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:52 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Absolutely, it could be legitimate... someone I know went through the course with H&R Block and was offered a job as one of the location managers. It was paid training, too.

So long as you have an aptitude for doing taxes, can sell, show up on time and can get along with the public, you can get a job doing taxes.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:13 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a roommate that applied to one of these and it was an obvious scam. They said it was for a "Liberty Mutual" tax prep office opening in the area for tax season. THe "interview was at a regualr table in a Panera. IT was a bait and swithc deal where at the interview, the guy wanted her to fill out some information to get started on the course (including social security number) and then the course would be 230$ with a "guarunteed job" at the end. The course had to be paid for by cash or check. Everything seemed sahdy and my roommate left mid interview. As we were leaving the Panera, we were stopped by a woman who showed us a police badge and asked us questions about the interaction. He was ten busted by undercover police.

Now I'm sure there legit tax preparers thath offer free training because the average person's taxes really are not a difficult or complex thing, but teh craigslist ads can definitely be scams. I would guess teh first indicator woul dbe if after asking about the course or job, they ask you th meet somewhere not actually connected to a tax preparation office.

Excuse typos please
posted by WeekendJen at 6:14 AM on August 8, 2013

While I'm not sure if the ads you are seeing are scams or not I think you would be shocked and amazed at how little training the average H&R Block employee has actually had. They definitely have people who are professionals with lots of experience and usually the harder returns go to them but most of their front line people have just only completed a couple days of training. But, most people's taxes don't actually require any training to do.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:41 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I worked for Liberty Tax one season and taking one of their free tax prep classes is how I got the job. The class I took was NOT paid training for the first few classes covering basic tax prep knowledge not specific to Liberty's business processes, but if they decided to hire you then they would also train you on Liberty's tax prep software and you would be paid for those hours.

The tax prep class is pretty much an extended interview/testing process during which your potential employer gets to assess a) how well you understand how to prepare taxes and b) how well you interact with people. There were several group discussions and we had to give our quiz answers orally in front of the whole class, with the local franchise owner present and watching us and/or chatting with us individually on the sidelines throughout the class.

Most people's tax returns are not that complicated and the software does almost everything for you anyway. More complicated returns are referred to employees (sometimes in other offices) who have had more advanced training. My understanding was that this advanced training is available in the off season to employees who stick around for multiple seasons but I have no idea how the logistics of that work.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:57 AM on August 8, 2013

Oh and I found the class/job via one of those ads on Craigslist.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:05 AM on August 8, 2013

Charging for the tax training is not necessarily a scam -- H&R Block charges you to take their initial training classes. If you pass them, and are not a complete jackass, they will likely hire you to work in one of their offices during tax season. You will receive slightly more training after that point, and be paid for it.

Even if you've worked for them in the past, you still have to either take or teach a class every year in the fall in order to be hired in tax season. There are more advanced courses available to people who have worked for them in the past where you learn how to do more complex returns.

A lot of what H&R Block does, at least in Canada, is super, super simple returns for people who really just want their tax refund fast. They'll cut you a check (or a pre-paid, fee-laden debit card) and then keep your return when it comes in. A well-trained kindergarten class could do most of those returns, but since that's not legal, they train adults to do them. If you stick around longer, you can get additional training and learn things that are a bit more complex, but they don't need that many people doing those more complicated returns.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:39 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Huh. How much did the job pay, Jacqueline?
posted by chaiminda at 7:39 AM on August 8, 2013

Do they really hire these people who've had so little training?

Yes. Which is why you should never get your taxes prepared by these places. If it's simple enough for them not to mess it up, then you can save yourself the cost and file with your own tax prep software or online program. If you make below a certain threshold, filing online is free; or you can go to a VITA free tax prep location, with people who also have very little training (6hrs or so) but at least it's free.

Tax prep for your W-2 employee, taking the standard deduction, maybe with a few kids, maybe with some student loans or child care expenses, is literally just data entry.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:59 AM on August 8, 2013

I also worked for a few seasons at Liberty and will vouch for their class not being a scam per se. (Importantly, the class was free. If anyone asks you to pay for training with a "guaranteed job" at the end, that's a big big big red flag and you should start looking for someone to report them to.)

There's a few reasons I don't work there anymore.

The biggest one is that their business model is way skeevy. They're basically a payday loan joint, only with "IRS check" instead of "paycheck." The ideal customer is a low-income single mom who's getting a big payment from the IRS (due to things like the earned income credit, which is essentially a disguised form of welfare) and who's willing to sign up for a loan at predatory rates in order to get that payment a few weeks early. Back when I worked there, ACORN still existed and was doing free tax returns with no predatory lending tacked on. We were instructed by our bosses to feed our customers nasty misinformation about ACORN in order to prevent people from taking advantage of the service. It got pretty hard to ignore the fact that we were ... well, Not Part Of The Solution, let's put it that way.

The other thing I'll caution you about is that the skills they teach you aren't really portable. It's not like working there is going to be a natural first step into a career as a real accountant, or even a bookkeeper. You learn some terminology, some basic IRS rules, and a lot of glorified data entry using their own proprietary tax prep software. You don't learn anything more generally useful about finance or bookkeeping practices. And Liberty is a franchise-based business with a really flat structure, so there isn't even really that much room for advancement within the company unless you're rich and crazy enough to buy your own franchise.

Long story short, think of their "Free tax prep class" as being more like a glorified version of the new employee training they give you when you start working at a chain restaurant, and less like an actual class in finance or tax law or anything like that. It's harder intellectually than making french fries, and a lot easier physically, but it's basically in the same ballpark in terms of how much they're investing in you and how much you'll get out of it.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Less skeevy than Craigslist, but I took a similar course with H&R Block in Australia. The course was one night a week for three months or so plus homework, and I then worked one day a week for the tax season. Here it paid pretty well - about $30 an hour, from memory, but overall wages are much higher here. It did feel a little bit dodgy to be taking so much money from people to do their taxes, but because e-tax (like a government-provided Turbo Tax) is free here, many people who came wanted someone else to do the grunt work of sorting through receipts, answer a few more complicated questions and to assist should they be audited, which I think is fair enough. It made me a lot more confident in doing my own taxes.
posted by quercus23 at 6:45 PM on August 8, 2013

chaiminda: It was a few years ago so I don't remember. I think it was a few bucks above minimum wage per hour plus a bonus at the end of the season based on a percentage of fees earned for the company.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:50 AM on August 9, 2013

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