In Oregon, every tax professional must pass an exam and obtain professional experience before opening a tax office. In Washington, as in most other states, that isn't the case.
There are several levels of professionals within our field, before making a choice on a provider, consumers should familarize themselves with them.
CPA: Current requirements include five years of college, including core courses in accounting, business law, auditing, and taxation to be eligible to sit for the CPA Exam. The CPA exam is two days, and covers a wide breath of accounting and tax knowledge. Once the exam is passed, a candidate obtains work experience at an accounting firm or in private industry before becoming licensed.
Enrolled Agent: College is not required, although many enrolled agents do hold a degree. The EA exam is two days, and focuses on in depth tax knowledge. Once passed, a candidate passes a background check and is eligible to become licensed.
Unenrolled preparers: This includes preparers with an EFIN (registered preparers) who e-file returns, and most preparers at the national chains fall into this category. A short tax course lasting a few weeks is provided by employers and employees are tested internally before starting work. No continuing education is currently required. Preparers at national chains are typically paid by commission and are encouraged to sell refund loans and/or retirement plans.
Anyone may become an unenrolled preparer and open a tax office in the state of Washington. Unenrolled preparers, unlike CPAs and EAs cannot provide representation work on behalf of clients.
LTC/LTPs: These designations are unique to Oregon only. An LTP must pass a half-day exam after taking an 80 hour tax course. An LTC must have an LTP license, take a one day exam on tax matters, and have 1,100 hours of experience preparing taxes.