USA Career change to accounting (non business background)

Jan 29, 2020
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United States

I wanted to ask what the most affordable way is to make a career change to accounting. I have a science background and currently teach (no surprise here), high school science. I took introductory financial and managerial accounting courses last year at my local community college. From my research, there are three options available to me: 1) I go back to school for a second bachelors degree in accounting 2) I go back to school for a masters degree in accounting 3) I take the required courses at a local community college that will enable me to sit for the CPA exam? Thanks for your help!

*Options 1 and 2 will mostly likely involve taking out more student loans and that's not something I want to do.


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Aug 2, 2017
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United States
It depends on what you mean by being an accountant. If you want to do audits and attestation services, you need a CPA license.

If you are taking that route, you can do what I did. After my BS, I did an MBA with a concentration in accounting. I did it full time so it only took two years. In my MBA class there were a host of other backgrounds; very few had undergrad business degrees. But we started with about 400 strong and only graduated about 150. A "c" in one class failed you out of the program. It was the m B or A program.

I am not sure about your state rules. The state I was in at the time, AZ, required two years intern before getting your license. If you had a master's, like I did, you only needed one year intern.

If you are interested more in tax work, your cheapest and quickest route depends on your state laws. Some states like CA and NY require at least some basic certification.

If you become an IRS EA (enrolled agent) which merely requires a high school degree and passing the test - which is not an easy task, you are licensed to practice before the IRS, and more than meet any of the states minimum certification requirements.

Most states do not have a minimum requirement. I would still recommend getting the EA. But one of the nice things about the US is you can write on a napkin, JANE DOE, TAX AND BOOKKEEPING SERVICES. Then tape that to your window, door, mailbox or someplace else visible and whammo, you are now an accountant. How successful you will be will depend on the knowledge you have and acquire and your ability to apply it.

If you go to work for one of the fast food tax preparation companies, they will put you through classes so that you can prepare basic returns.

The IRS mandates anyone that prepares for compensation more than ten returns to obtain a PTIN which costs nothing and has no real requirements other than your own taxes are filed and paid and you do not have certain criminal convictions. You are also required to adhere to Circular 230 which dictates the professional standards the IRS requires paid preparers adhere to.

But please understand, my observation and experience dictates that many fast food preparers and even many EAs can and should only prepare simple basic returns. They rarely understand the accounting, business, financial, retirement and planning concepts to handle more complex returns. I do know some EAs that are worth their hourly rate. But I also have seen some CPAs not worth their hourly rate.

My assistant worked as a fast food preparer for five years. She had a minimum certification license. When she first started with me, she could get a lot of the data entered for individual returns on the first five schedules (A - personal deductions, B - interest and dividends, C - sole proprietors, D - basic capital gains, and E page 1- rents and royalties) but beyond that she was lost. She also was not able to complete any returns even if they were basic; she always sent them to me with some diagnostics needing to be removed or made some typos. Now she does most individual stuff along with trusts, Corps and partnerships.

The thing she has yet to learn is bookkeeping, but she has helped with payroll. Many think of bookkeeping as accounting. It really is not. It is the underlying (often very repetitive) processes in the accounting systems. You can learn to use Freshbooks or some other bookkeeping software, and take a course or two in sales tax, contracting, and payroll. Then again get that napkin and tape out. There is and always seems to have been in my 25+ years as a CPA a shortage of good freelance bookkeepers.
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Apr 7, 2020
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If you have good interest and passion for accountancy and finance, then why not!? Accounts have a lot to offer to you in terms of your career. Your step one to study accounts, in particular, is to get the basic concepts right. The entire accounting and finance castle stands on a couple of very basic rules and principles. Another awesome side to accounts is the professional courses - you can enhance your accounting career by pursuing courses like CMA, CPA, etc., which will add value and repute on your every step.

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