5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a CPA

CPA helping a couple with taxesThe following is part of a series of informational articles for working adults who are considering a master’s degree. We kicked things off with 6 Exciting Career Opportunities for MS in Accounting Graduates, followed by Is a Master of Science in Accounting Worth Your Time? Next week’s article is Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a CPA 

“Certified Public Accountant” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The name is redolent of authority and expertise, and for good reason: CPAs are some of the most sought-out professionals in the marketplace. As the saying goes, “Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes” … and CPAs help people manage both. Whether your focus is preparing annual tax returns, providing payroll services or helping your clients plan their estates, you will be able to do good and constantly increase your savvy as a CPA.

That’s not to say all is roses in a CPA career. Likewise, though, the common perception of CPAs as rigid and chained to desks is also incorrect. Here are five things you should know before you decide to apply to a program and get your license.

1. The Potential for Legal Trouble Is High

With the exception of their health and their families, there’s not much people take more seriously than their finances. If you don’t take this just as seriously as they do – more so, actually – you may find yourself in a world of hurt.

That’s because legal trouble is a real possibility if you mess up someone’s taxes, payroll or other financial information. If it’s found you prepared an estate plan incorrectly, you can be taken to court not only by your client, but heirs of your client if they pass away. Make sure a) you’re prepared for this emotionally and b) you or your employer has very good insurance.

2. It’s Possible to Prepare Taxes Without a CPA License

Many people with an interest in taxes assume they have to get a CPA license in order to prepare them for clients, but that’s not the case. If you instead become a Licensed Tax Consultant or IRS Enrolled Agent, you can focus exclusively on taxes without having to go through a bunch of accounting training (which, for some, may seem too mind-numbing to consider doing for life). You can also work as a Licensed Tax Preparer, apprenticing under either an LTC or EA.

3. You’re Not Confined to a Single Role

It is a pervasive myth that CPAs wear glasses and sit behind desks shuffling paperwork long into the night (hello, green banker’s lamp!). In reality, your options are actually considerably less narrow: You can teach, audit, help people organize their businesses for optimum success or perform expert witness services in court cases.

You can even blend careers. For instance, you might first earn a CPA, then work as a copywriter dedicated to providing web and blog content for others in the field. Or you could go into marketing, helping them establish a name, and generating clients and revenue.

4. Accountants Don’t Have to Work the 9-to-5 Shift

Just as many options exist for what type of work you can do, so do many exist for when you work. If you prefer to work at home, you’ll be happy to know that telecommuting is becoming more and more feasible. Or you might set yourself an early schedule serving people before they head to work, or late hours to accommodate those taking care of errands before they head home.

5. January Through April Will Never Be Your Own

Especially if you work as a tax accountant, but even if your focus is in other fields, you will experience significantly greater demand on your time during tax season: the months stretching from the beginning of January to April 15th. Often the season will run even later, as clients who took extensions race to catch up and file before the October 15th extension deadline (after which penalties usually accrue).

So there you have it: the good and the bad. Of course, there’s much more to learn about accounting, so stay tuned here and feel free to ask questions of program directors at your intended school.

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