Bookkeeper, Accountant, or Income Tax Preparer?

Need to hire somebody to help you keep your records neat but don't know if you need a bookkeeper, accountant, or income tax preparer? Listed below are the differences between the three. The terms are nearly interchangeable these days and in smaller companies one person may perform all three jobs, but these are the traditional definitions.


A bookkeeper or accounting clerk is simply a person who performs data entry by recording financial transactions and maintains detailed logs. This can include calculating payroll. Bookkeepers often offer summaries of the accounts they manage. Depending on the bookkeeper or the program they use, a bookkeeper may also offer reports such as profit and loss statements.

Typically a bookkeeper has no formal training and is self-taught.


An accountant is usually in charge of a bookkeeper or several bookkeepers and is the one who designs and maintains the bookkeeping system, creates and presents financial reports, and may even regularly review transactions to find ways to cut spending.

Typically an accountant has formal training. A college degree or certification, such as an MBA or CPA. Some states also regulate who is allowed to refer to themselves as an accountant.

CPAs are very diverse and often specialize their field of expertise, such as auditing business finances or preparing income tax returns.

Income Tax Preparer

An income tax preparer is strictly related to your individual or business income tax return, estimated taxes, sales tax, and other tax forms, depending on the specialties of the professional. Most tax preparers are not involved with either bookkeeping, accounting, or payroll, and simply use the reports generated by bookkeepers and accountants to complete tax forms, but some may offer these services.

Tax preparers range from being self-taught, apprenticed, having taken courses and workshops produced by larger firms and organizations, to being certified by the IRS as an Enrolled Agent.