When I mentioned I was studying to become an Enrolled Agent, a reader asked me whether I knew any courses to learn more about taxes, not to become a tax professional but to be more knowledgeable in general. I’m sharing these in case others are also interested.
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Coursera is a Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) platform. Universities and other organizations offer courses there. It’s open to anyone. If you want a certificate or degree you will have to pay but if you just want to learn, you can choose the “audit” option and take the courses for free.
University of Illinois offers Federal Taxation I: Individuals, Employees, and Sole Proprietors on Coursera. It was helpful when I took it. The course is offered on a rolling schedule. A new session starts every couple of weeks. The course consists of short videos, slides used in the videos, reading materials, quick knowledge-check quizzes after the videos, more comprehensive quizzes after each module, and a final exam. If you only choose the audit option, you won’t be able to submit the module-level quizzes or the final exam. That’s the only limitation; everything else is free. If you choose to pay to have your quizzes and exam graded and a certificate of completion, it’s $79/month.
Once you enroll, you have access to all the materials. You can learn at your own pace. I finished 8 weeks of materials in 1-1/2 weeks. If you are not able to finish in 8 weeks, you can transfer to a new session and pick up where you leave off.
Udemy is another online learning platform. It’s not as academic as Coursera. Udemy has this Tax Preparation and Law 2018 2019 – Income Tax course. It’s on sale right now for $9.99. I haven’t taken it, but for only $10 I think it’s worth a shot. The course content shows 12 hours of video, and once you buy it you will have lifetime access. The instructor is a practicing CPA.
If you prefer in-person classroom learning, where you can ask questions and hear questions from others, tax preparation company H&R Block offers an Income Tax Course every year at many locations around the country. Classes near me span 6 weeks from early September till late November this year.
Schedules vary by location. Locations near me offer 3 hours per day on Monday/Wednesday/Friday daytime, Monday/Wednesday/Friday evenings, or Tuesday evenings plus Saturday mornings and afternoons. For 9 hours of live instructions per week over 6 weeks, the course costs only $149.
After you take the course you are eligible to be hired by H&R Block as a seasonal tax preparer but you are certainly not obligated to work for them. Just learning for your own interest is perfectly fine.
Class schedules and availability vary from college to college. A community college near me offers a Taxation of Individuals class. It meets once per week plus online learning over a full semester. Another community college near me offers an Individual Income Taxation class. This one is fully online but unlike a MOOC platform it has a fixed start date and end date and a fixed capacity. The schedule shows it’s already full with a waiting list.
If the class is online, the community college doesn’t have to be close to you. Any community college in your state will give you in-state tuition. If the community colleges near you don’t offer the class, you can look for an online class from other community colleges in your state.
Tax Volunteer Training
If you are interested in volunteering to do taxes for low-to-moderate income families, the elderly, and the disabled, you can join the IRS tax volunteers program. No prior experience is required; they will train you. When you learn how to do taxes for others you will also learn about taxes for yourself. In exchange for the training you will have to commit to a minimum number of volunteering hours during the tax season. I saw one site required 35 volunteer hours over 2-1/2 months. Training schedules vary by location. After you tell the IRS you are interested, a volunteer organization near you will contact you.
I think it’s a great way to learn and help the community at the same time.
If you are able to learn by just reading a book, a good starting point is Taxes Made Simple: Income Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less by Mike Piper. Mike always explains everything clearly. The book is only $5 on Kindle and $12 in paperback.
If you need a more comprehensive book, J.K. Lasser’s Your Income Tax 2019 is a consumer-grade tax book. It costs about $15. Due to its volume (896 pages), I think the paperback version works better than the Kindle version. A new edition of this book comes out every year. If you’d like to see what it’s like, your public library probably carries it or a previous year’s edition.
I just bought a used copy of U.S. Master Tax Guide (2018) Special Edition- Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for $18. It’s a professional-grade reference book, intended for looking things up after you already know the basics. The latest edition costs over $100. When I’m not doing taxes for others, an older, but still recent, edition works for me just fine.
Whichever learning style suits you, learning more about taxes will save you money in the long run.
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Thanks, Harry. This is useful information for me. I will give the courses a try.
I have done a couple of Coursera classes, read a few books, my favorite is “The Overtaxed Investor” by Phil DeMuth. Also, have done the volunteer AARP – Taxaide program for 7 years. Doing taxes in real-time is the best way I can think of to learn about them. The IRS has a Link & Learn website that anyone can access which is a wealth of knowledge if you want to put in the time.
Knowing how taxes work is really a must if you plan on doing investing on your own, or even with an advisor’s help as not many are going to take enough time to understand your tax situation. You are your own best fiduciary!
Is that free online Stanford economics course available anymore? I couldn’t find the link to enroll.
Harry Sit says
Unlike a MOOC platform, that Stanford economics course isn’t offered continuously. You’d have to wait until it’s offered again, maybe in the summer next year. Set a calendar reminder for yourself to check the professor’s website in late June next year for the announcement: https://economicsone.com
Or you can look for other economics courses on Coursera, such as The Power of Microeconomics and The Power of Macroeconomics from University of California Irvine.
Thanks. Right now I’m reading along with the “Econ Extra Credit” Marketplace podcast reading group. The text is “Economy, Society and Public Policy” available at https://www.core-econ.org/. It’s not a traditional econ textbook — meant for people looking for how economics applies to public policy. But I’m finding it pretty educational and challenging given that the last time I took an econ or math class was at least 20 years ago.