Whether you are on your way to college, in the middle of your semester break, or have your graduation date in sight, there is always a question that comes up: What are you going to do with your degree? Those working in business, accounting, entrepreneurship, and mathematics may have thought about the profession of a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) – and with good reason. By building a solid client base, you can earn a lucrative income, making the occasional long hours worthwhile. Google searches for “Certified Public Accountant near me” are rising at a rapid rate these days.
However, there are some tidbits of information that every potential CPA should know, including the requirements of the role and the tasks you’re expected to fulfil. If you’re not sure if this is the postgraduate career for you, this Q & A can help.
Are Certified Public Accountants and Accountants the same thing?
Yes and no; all CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs. In order to obtain your CPA certification, you need more training and experience, and you need to pass a Uniform CPA Exam. At the moment it probably sounds like a small form of torture to add additional courses, internships, and exams to your current workload at university, but with the added challenge and distinction you will reap the benefits of more confidence, opportunities, and financial rewards.
Note: CPAs and accountants are also different from a tax advocate or attorney, whose professions also have different certification requirements.
What do Certified Public Accountants do?
‘Accounting’ is in the job title, so this aspect of the work should come as no surprise. However, you might be surprised to learn that CPAs do much more than file income tax returns in April. They work for accounting firms large and small, from Fortune 500 companies to neighborhood businesses. They act as financial advisors and trusted decision-makers, providing advice on a range of issues.
You can work as a CPA for a company to help them achieve their goal of opening a new office, or you can offer your services to a private individual seeking savings advice to become a homeowner for the first time.
To be approved as a CPA, certification is required as soon as you have completed the examination with the authorities.
There are so many industries that one can venture into as a CPA: use the title as a stepping stone to hop your way to Chief Financial Advisor or Chief Executive Officer; offer tax tips to Millenials to get them out of college debt faster; help a rock star manage his money and stay debt-free; or even consult with the FBI in criminal fraud investigations. The possibilities are pretty limitless.
What are the obligations of a CPA?
First of all, you need to keep up to date with all the tax reform news – which, following the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is a lot of news. You need to be informed about the 20% deduction for qualifying corporate income, new tax breaks for homeowners and how W-4 stocks could change depending on income class.
Take part in live webinars, stay up to date on your training and don’t let any small details slip through the cracks. If you’re not on your ‘A-Game’, you could cost your customers a lot of money, which is not fun for you or your customers.
A CPA license is also associated with extremely high ethical integrity. Whether you work in public accounting, corporate accounting, government, education, or nonprofit organizations, you are expected to work in the best interests of your clients, not in your own selfish interests.
You must provide sound, unbiased advice on all financial matters (with the relevant figures to back it up). When multi-million dollar mergers and acquisitions are at stake, to claim that a CPA job can be ‘stressful’ is a gross understatement. There is often a lot of money at stake, and even if your advice is based on facts and figures, there will come a point where your subjective opinion comes into play – and then your experience as an expert will set you apart from the other CPAs in your industry.
Ultimately, it may be in your interest to pursue a CPA career if you are involved in the analysis of numbers and tax codes. It will require additional schooling, but with higher education comes higher salary levels. You can keep your CPA job comfortable or you can make it competitive and climb the ladder. The choice is yours, and your money is at your disposal.