Author Topic: Earning my CPA license?  (Read 7954 times)

uspsfanalan

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Earning my CPA license?
« on: November 19, 2013, 11:58:15 AM »
I am 32 years old and have been working in finance since 2005. I have a BA in Political Science and Communications Studies, (terrible choices of majors btw.) Iím currently working at a call center in a cube farm selling mutual funds, ETFs and managed accounts. About 80% of my time is making phone calls, which I donít really mind, but Iíve been doing it so long I feel like a dummy for failing to develop a better skill set. 20% of my time is working with inbound calls, which I like a lot better, plus I get a lot more clients that way.

My current income is 59k with salary and bonus, my wifeís is around 80k plus a potential bonus that seems like a long shot. Additionally she does some contractor work on the side for her prior employer, if she stays with that it would bring in an extra 5k this year. To sum it all up, having a pretax income of around 140k to 145k

A friend of mine at work asked me about my career plan and reminded me that I donít want to be him, sitting there at age 40 working the same job. Our SVP has said he wouldnít consider hiring someone as a manager without prior management experience. However, there arenít any roles as team lead or anything like that would lead to becoming a manager so Iím stuck if I stay here. Iím ready for something different but donít know what that would be.

Iíve considered trying to sit for the CPA exam. Iíve taken 2 accounting courses and had straight As in both of those. I would need an additional 24 credit hours, plus studying for the exam itself in order to take the exam. Currently I can only take 3 credit hours a semester and work this full time job, so it will be about 3 years before I can take the exam if I go to school year round. My wife has been extremely supportive and said that if my job ever gets to be too stressful I can always quit my and go back to school full time if I wanted to.

Now Iím just trying to decide what to do. My questions would be:
ē   Are there any CPAís on this board and would you recommend trying to become a CPA now?
ē   Other than just enjoying the courses or not, is there a good way to test if I would like being an accountant? Or if I would be any good at it? Iíve found that school smarts donít always match up with real world experiences.
ē   Instead of just taking courses at my community college, would it make more sense to try to get into some sort of master program? Iím a bit reluctant to do that primarily because of the expense. I would likely need to get pre-requisites at the community college anyway.

Any comments or links you could provide to direct me would be greatly appreciated.

mgreczyn

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2013, 12:24:01 PM »
Preface by saying that I am not a CPA but did make a career change at about the age you are now.  I also want to follow this thread as I'm faced with an impending career change, CPA is something I've considered since my main career goals at this stage of life are stability, decent pay and low business travel requirements (more or less in that order) and I'm interested to read what the CPA crowd writes.

For reference, my career change was military officer to civilian working stiff, facilitated by a full-time MBA program, started at 29 in 2006 finished in 2008 at 31. 

Have you thought about a CFA instead of a CPA?  More in line with your current skillset, but I totally get wanting to ditch the sales side of things.  Don't knock the cold-calling skillset, btw, even if you never have to cold call someone again I guarantee it has improved your soft skills, which are damn hard to teach.

Are you sure you want to stay in financial services?

CNM

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2013, 12:31:09 PM »
I'm not a CPA, but my spouse is.

If you want to work in accounting, you don't need to have a CPA to do it.  Once you have your accounting degree accounting firms will hire you.  My husband worked as an accountant for years before completing his CPA. 

One major source of stress for practicing CPAs is the concept of the billable hour.  My husband once worked at a large, international accounting firm and the associates were worked pretty hard.  He also had a lot of multi-day travel (for weeks at a time) to uninspiring locations.  It reminded me of BigLaw jobs.  Now he works for a small firm and his job satisfaction has improved quite a bit.  The billable hour is still there, but it's a less stressful atmosphere.  It is nice that he can start his own accounting business and take on side gigs if he wants to. 

uspsfanalan

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2013, 02:00:08 PM »
Have you thought about a CFA instead of a CPA?  More in line with your current skillset, but I totally get wanting to ditch the sales side of things.  Don't knock the cold-calling skillset, btw, even if you never have to cold call someone again I guarantee it has improved your soft skills, which are damn hard to teach.

Are you sure you want to stay in financial services?

I have considered the CFA (certified financial advisor) but it didn't really resolve the issue of wanting to get out of sales. I work as an in house advisor so I don't have any clients I would be able to keep if I went to another broker dealer. So even if I were to spend the time working toward that goal I wouldn't have a client base to work with. Plus I'm actually not a people person, I have worked in face to face sales and it was super stressful. I'm not mentally up to going back to that.   

You're 100% correct on the soft skills, I listen to some of the other guys around me and can tell who's been doing this for a while and who hasn't. I'm a lot more polished than when I first started and I shouldn't take it for granted.

As far as staying in financial services that's also a good point. I did a Brigs Meyers personality test and read a bunch of books on trying to figure out what to do. Apparently my style is ISFJ, or nurturing. I had always considered teaching so I volunteered at my local school. It was okay but I didn't love it. Plus at the time a lot of schools were starting lay offs, so it didn't make sense to go back to school to work more hours for less money. I have considered this list of possible career choices and accountant seemed to work best with my existing skills and desire to get off the phone.

   Interior Decorators
   Designers
   Nurses
   Administrators and Managers
   Administrative Assistants
   Child Care / Early Childhood Development
   Social Work / Counselors
   Paralegals
   Clergy / Religious Workers
   Office Managers
   Shopkeepers
   Bookkeepers 
   Home Economics

MgoSam

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2013, 02:29:53 PM »
I don't know how different they are by the state, but from my understanding you need to be within 6 of achieving all the credits required before you can apply to sit for the CPA. This would take a significant course of time. This would definitely enable you to decide if you enjoy accounting. To my knowledge the masters programs for accounting and tax both require an undergraduate degree in accounting or its equivalency.

I am an accountant but have switched into a different field.

If you are detailed oriented and good with numbers, I would also recommend looking into the field of actuary. From what I understand (this is from talking to a recruit at UHS), they are hire a lot of people in their 30s that change careers. They do want applicants to have passed the first two exams, both of these exams are math and probability based, and not on actuarial math, before they apply but I think this might be worth looking into, if you are looking to change fields. They do make a very good living with limited hours, but they are taking lots of tests for many years.

uspsfanalan

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2013, 02:31:23 PM »

If you want to work in accounting, you don't need to have a CPA to do it.  Once you have your accounting degree accounting firms will hire you.  My husband worked as an accountant for years before completing his CPA.

One major source of stress for practicing CPAs is the concept of the billable hour.  My husband once worked at a large, international accounting firm and the associates were worked pretty hard.  He also had a lot of multi-day travel (for weeks at a time) to uninspiring locations.  It reminded me of BigLaw jobs.  Now he works for a small firm and his job satisfaction has improved quite a bit.  The billable hour is still there, but it's a less stressful atmosphere.  It is nice that he can start his own accounting business and take on side gigs if he wants to.

Thanks for sharing that, the BigLaw aspect of it sounds horrendous. With every job there comes pressure to perform so I can understand how billable hours can be an issue. I would ideally like to work for myself 3 days a week and be Mustachian enough to have it cover all of my expenses. I do realize it would probably take quite a while to get to that point though.

As far as getting the accounting degree first and then getting the CPA if needed, that could be a good option. I'm just not sure it would be any quicker than trying to go directly towards the CPA.

clutchy

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2013, 02:34:01 PM »
I'm a CPA; I've been in public for 6+ years at this point.

I'm a social science degree convert and just took additional classes to be eligible to sit.  I was picked up out of college by a local firm and have worked for them since.

I make decent money but the real benefit comes @ the partner level or if you go to private.


Having my license is a significant point of pride in that it takes a decent amount of school and passing that infernal exam.  In Cal where I am it's now a master's level position.


I travel maybe 10 weeks a year and interact quite a bit with people.  Lots of interviews and such... but there's also the grunt work; it can become pretty tedious. 

I work for a smaller firm so my experience is more rounded in that I've had exposure to lots of different sectors; audit and tax.  Basically I manage engagements from beginning to end and interact with the client and partner.


depending on what you actually want to do big 4 is sometimes the only way to get into certain positions.  Lots of public companies are closed to you if you don't have that level of experience, so keep that in mind.

your GPA is pretty important.

uspsfanalan

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2013, 02:36:04 PM »
I am an accountant but have switched into a different field.

That's interesting, did you initially like accounting and what made you decide to switch? What field are you in now?

I would also recommend looking into the field of actuary.

Good tip, I'm definitely going to check that out as well.

uspsfanalan

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2013, 02:46:59 PM »
I travel maybe 10 weeks a year and interact quite a bit with people.  Lots of interviews and such... but there's also the grunt work; it can become pretty tedious.

I work for a smaller firm so my experience is more rounded in that I've had exposure to lots of different sectors; audit and tax.  Basically I manage engagements from beginning to end and interact with the client and partner.

Thanks for the inside scoop, I would prefer to work for a smaller firm like you do. I'm not sure if I initially realized how difficult this exam will be, I've only taken the intro courses and aced them. I'll be taking 220 this semester, so it will likely ramp up the complexity quite a bit. I never thought I was traditionally a numbers guy or gifted in that area. Math was actually my worst subject in highschool but so far everything seems pretty intuitive.

I think I might have to go from full time work to part time work and go to school on a more aggressive time table to have a better chance of success.

Numbers Man

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2013, 03:10:53 PM »
Being a CPA that's good at persuading and bullshitting is an awesome combination. If you have passed the intermediate courses you have a shot at getting that accounting degree. Although your personality might be better suited for finance or financial planning.

You need to talk to people that are doing these jobs to get a perspective. Start networking at these networking gatherings and find out about the pros and the cons.

My favorite phrase when presenting numbers is "It can't be?"; makes me laugh every time.

mcneally

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2013, 03:59:08 PM »
I passed though CPA last year, though I'm not sure why I put all the effort into doing it because it isn't required for my job at the IRS (though an accounting degree is) and I plan to stay with my employer. The outlook for potential federal hiring in the next few years is not good.

The exam is difficult, but if you can get an accounting degree you can pass the CPA exam. It's just a matter of putting in the study hours-probably something like 100 hours per section.

Regarding a masters program- I have a masters in accounting and I don't think any employers care about it. All that matters beyond having a BS in accounting is having the hours to sit for the exam. If it costs more or requires more classes than what your state requires to sit for the CPA, I'd recommend skipping the masters.

uspsfanalan

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #11 on: November 20, 2013, 07:04:42 AM »
My favorite phrase when presenting numbers is "It can't be?"; makes me laugh every time.

Ha, true. Most people and businesses have a terrible understanding of where their money is actually going. I occasionally get the "oh my god" response from my present clients when I explain to them just how fucked they are for not saving a lot more earlier. Depending on the client I'm either amused or sorry for them.

uspsfanalan

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #12 on: November 20, 2013, 07:13:15 AM »
I passed though CPA last year, though I'm not sure why I put all the effort into doing it because it isn't required for my job at the IRS (though an accounting degree is) and I plan to stay with my employer. The outlook for potential federal hiring in the next few years is not good.

The exam is difficult, but if you can get an accounting degree you can pass the CPA exam. It's just a matter of putting in the study hours-probably something like 100 hours per section.

Regarding a masters program- I have a masters in accounting and I don't think any employers care about it. All that matters beyond having a BS in accounting is having the hours to sit for the exam. If it costs more or requires more classes than what your state requires to sit for the CPA, I'd recommend skipping the masters.

Thanks for your incite here, it seems that the consensus on the board has been that it might be better to just try to get a BS in accounting, see how I like the work and eventually sit for the CPA designation if I find it to be necessary.

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #13 on: November 20, 2013, 10:57:23 AM »
I am a CPA.  Only did 2 years in public accounting, and now I work in corporate accounting.  For most CPAs, public accounting is a matter of putting in your dues, then moving on to corporate work.  Better hours, better pay, no tracking billable hours, etc.  If you can sit for the exam for less than what a new degree would cost you, I say go for the CPA.  When I took it, you didn't need to be a resident of some states to sit for the exam.  So if you fall short on an education requirement, check out another state.  I took the 2nd to last paper and pencil exam in 2003, and passed the first time.  Studying for it was non stop for 5 months. (I'm talking post-its with mnemonics on the outside of the clear shower curtain so I could study and get clean at the same time).  But that was when you took all four parts in 2 days.  I think it is worse now that it takes up 1.5 years of your life. 

If I could do it again I might have gone the actuary route, just from a salary standpoint.  Although this path hasn't been bad.  I'm 10 years into my career and my annual income is around $95K.  By the time I had an interest in actuarial sciences, I had been doing accounting for a while, and changing would have meant a salary drop, which I wasn't keen on.  Also, I haven't really been working on climbing the ladder for 6 or 7 of the 10 years.  Just happy to maintain status quo and spend weekends with my family.

thirtysomething

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2013, 12:56:00 PM »
I am a CPA (9 years) working for a "big 4" firm in a big city (w/ a SAHW and 3 kids). No one cares that I have a masters degree and I get paid the same as people without. Salary is good. Hours are bad. Plan is two more years and then search for something with better work / life balance and then a few more years to FI. Got into it for the "experience" and got what we expected (and some grey hair to go with it). Agree with comments about not needing a masters  for the job. I looked into getting an EMBA from Columbia and LBS, but the price seems ridiculous. I get calls and emails from recruiters all the time for $100k+ jobs. The burnout in big 4 firms is high, but it can be a good path up the corp ladder. Depends on what you want. The CPA credential (vs CFA chartered financial analyst) is less finance and more accounting (obviously). But opens a lot more doors for working in-house at "normal" companies. The exams were 5 months of horrible to pass (especially when you know half the content will never be relevant to your job), but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I liked chemistry, statistics, economics and accounting in Uni. My career "test" suggested jobs that would be satisfying included "flight attendant, park ranger or accountant" - I'm happy with my choice.

MMMdude

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #15 on: November 24, 2013, 10:32:52 PM »
I'm a CPA in Canada (not the same letters, same job) and as others have alluded to there are basically two main career streams in this profession.  1) is in public practice where you can make good money at manager/partner level but hours are terrible and you have to be accountable for every minute of your day or 2) in industry where most folks who aren't partner material end up.  At least where I live, salaries are very good once you are designated.  Over 100k should not be an issue.  For me, I also have pretty damn good hours - rarely do I work more than a 40 hour work.  Perfect job right?  Well, not really.  16 years into my career and I'm desperate to do something else.  I manage a team of employees so my job is really more of an HR manager at this time and I'm more  'doer' than a manager type.  Accounting also isn't the most glamous thing so most of my days are either very boring or very stressful depending on Management's wish list for the day.  Having said that, I do like the fact that it would be relatively easy to get side income/transition to working from home full time if I so chose to do that.  In a few years I'd like to work exclusively from home.

CheckEngineLight

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #16 on: November 25, 2013, 08:03:00 AM »
I am a CPA as well (Canada).   The field and jobs are very broad, accounting definitely isnít for everybody and to be honest the field is currently getting pretty saturated (at least here).  At your current age you will have to start in a more junior role, which means lower pay than what you make now (mid 40ís Ė mid 50ís depending on your market conditions) and probably mundane work and long hours.  This is the general start up of any CPA, aka paying your dues like others have noted.

Thatís the bad part, the good part is the exit opportunities.  I work in industry, I am 30 and make 120k, graduated university 7 years ago. My hours are decent, but there are times where I work 80-100 hours a week during peak times.  The job at the senior level (Manager/Director Level), which is where you will make over a 100k is more about politics than accounting.  To succeed here itís all about interpersonal skills and your ability to manage those that work for you and manage those that you work with.  Your interpersonal skills will be your limiting factor in this field, if you donít have them you will top out a senior accountant/manager level and it will be hard to crack the 100k or whatever your particular market pays, unless you specialize in tax or business valuation, etc.

All in all, good field, but I think there is a prettier picture painted out there than what the reality is.  Getting your designation isnít the hard part, itís utilizing it and reaping all the benefits from it is and you really have to think long and hard about your abilities and where you fit in the big picture.

neoptolemus412

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #17 on: November 25, 2013, 09:24:10 AM »
Have a CPA/CFA.  Meet many people in your situation.  Here's some strategic advice.

Taking 3 semester credits per semester is a little light if you want to transition to accounting.  Time is not on your side and taking 3 years is not worth it imo.  I'd suggest finding a reputable university to finish up your accounting classes with an online component.  Accounting recruitment is very cyclical and you do yourself a disservice by taking 3 years to attain credits without a degree. 

Big 4

The best way to brand yourself as an accountant is Big 4 experience with a CPA, preferably in audit.  Getting into a Big 4 firm is about finding the local school that has heavy recruitment.  This is not hard to find if you research the school and/or look at job fairs.  A Masters would help you with recruitment, but there aren't many part-time Masters programs that are also at reputable universities.  Masters in accountancy are simply tools for students to attain 150 credit hours and recruiters to get a fresh look at you.  Most students donít attain a masters and attain their hours during/after their undergraduate.  The degree won't get you a pay bump in public.  However, it will make it easier to get into a Big 4 Firm. 

Recruitment

Recruitment is usually 6-12 months out.  The late summer/early fall is when interviews/offers occur.  This is why it's imperative to start relationships in the winter with a recruiter and follow up accordingly by the time interviews happen 6 months later.  Off cycle start dates are rare.  To break into public, you need to plan if you are currently working full-time and wouldnít want unnecessary gaps between your current role and a potential new role in public.

At your age, you are in a tough position.  Big 4 jobs are the best opportunities.  However, your age/lack of experience will make it tough. It's doable, but 3 years to get your credit hours will make it tough.  All they care about is having 150 credit hours and how you plan on passing the exam.  The perk of the Big 4 is they will pay for your review materials/exam costs.  This is roughly $3K-$5K in additional costs.  Many pay for a cell phone as well.  Pretty substantial for an entry level job.  If you are serious about switching careers, I'd do everything possible to get a position by Fall 2015. 

Best solution

Moving into accounting is a total career switch.  I never believe in totally switching careers, unless you have totally crapped out in your current career or are moving.  I'd go for a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).  It would be cheaper and you could get the credential in a much shorter time.  The exam is easier than the CPA.  It leverages your current role.  It also gives you an easy way into another company by saying you are looking to grow your own book.  You could pass the exam in 2014 and finish the courses through some online programs.

Accounting Resources

AICPA - This will help you understand the licensing requirements in your state.  This makes it easier for you to understand what you would need to do to sit for the CPA exam and the experience requirement.  Without a masters, you may have to attain 2 years vs. 1 year of experience.

goingconcern.com - This is the gawker for accountants.  It will give tons of great details about what the profession is really like. 

another71.com - A forum/blog dedicated to passing the CPA exam.  Here you can gauge the trials and tribulations of others thinking of taking the path to becoming a CPA.

uspsfanalan

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Re: Earning my CPA license?
« Reply #18 on: November 25, 2013, 10:46:06 AM »
Have a CPA/CFA.  Meet many people in your situation.  Here's some strategic advice.

Taking 3 semester credits per semester is a little light if you want to transition to accounting.  Time is not on your side and taking 3 years is not worth it imo.  I'd suggest finding a reputable university to finish up your accounting classes with an online component.  Accounting recruitment is very cyclical and you do yourself a disservice by taking 3 years to attain credits without a degree.

You are 100% correct on this. I have 6 credits so far, I'll look into taking more per semester. The course I'm enrolled in now is 4 credit hours, I'll see if I can get another 3 as well. If I do that I should be able to get the credits wrapped up in year to year and a half. Then study for the exam. Still a very long process for a guy my age.

Big 4

The best way to brand yourself as an accountant is Big 4 experience with a CPA, preferably in audit.  Getting into a Big 4 firm is about finding the local school that has heavy recruitment.  This is not hard to find if you research the school and/or look at job fairs.  A Masters would help you with recruitment, but there aren't many part-time Masters programs that are also at reputable universities.  Masters in accountancy are simply tools for students to attain 150 credit hours and recruiters to get a fresh look at you.  Most students donít attain a masters and attain their hours during/after their undergraduate.  The degree won't get you a pay bump in public.  However, it will make it easier to get into a Big 4 Firm.

I don't think I'm Big 4 material and it's not really my goal. My wife and I are trying to move back to the North East, from the South East. I was trying to find a career that is marketable in almost every area which is what lead me to accounting. We are considering most of the mid sized cities in upstate NY, (Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Binghamton) as well as some of the cities in CT. We're trying to move home to be closer to family.

Best solution

Moving into accounting is a total career switch.  I never believe in totally switching careers, unless you have totally crapped out in your current career or are moving.  I'd go for a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).  It would be cheaper and you could get the credential in a much shorter time.  The exam is easier than the CPA.  It leverages your current role.  It also gives you an easy way into another company by saying you are looking to grow your own book.  You could pass the exam in 2014 and finish the courses through some online programs.

That makes sense but I'm not a salesman.  I started my Career with Ameriprise Financial and tried the hard sell. It lasted for about 9 months before I got the boot. After that I worked in financial call centers, in service / soft sales, which is what I've been doing for about 7 years now. Currently, I'm paid on a salary and have a dual role that lets me do some soft selling to existing clients. In some way you could think of my role as a retention department. What I'm best at is listening to people and finding out what they need and providing them with the appropriate solution. So I can sell on an inbound call or a transferred call but my outbound calls are almost never productive. It was my understanding that unless you wanted to build your own book there wasn't much point in trying to get the CFA.

Accounting Resources

This is great, I'll check them out later today.

Thank you for your thoughtful response, I've had discussions with my instructors about the job market and my next steps. Your response was a lot more helpful than they've been. I'm trying to stay optimistic and put together a plan that makes sense for me. Its hard because the position I'm in is somewhat of a dead end and I doubt that I could find this type of position in the cities my wife and I are considering moving home to.