Accounting as a second job or eventual career shift?
October 23, 2013 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Could I undergo a training program and be an "accounting assistant" on evenings and weekends during the upcoming tax season? Is there another way to become a part-time accountant? I'm also considering a career transition and wonder if accounting would be a good long-term direction for me.

Is it at all realistic to get a part-time evening / weekend job as an entry-level accountant, maybe during the upcoming tax season rush? What training do I need? What kind of pay scale might I expect?

In the long run, I've been considering a switch to a career where I might eventually be my own boss, that I could more easily take with me if I move, and/or a job I could do part-time after I start a family in a few years.

I currently have no business, economics, or finance-related credentials. I'm in my early 30s and have a masters degree in an applied field. In my full-time day job, I manage people, review policy documents, analyze the policy implications of technical information, write reports and memos, and handle relationships with a wide range of external stakeholders. The excel and data analysis is particularly easy and fun for me.

I would prefer a job that was easier to leave at the office. I think accounting plays to my strengths: organizing, numbers, data analysis, and legalistic orientation to details. (I also think law would, but I'm not up for law school right now.)

I have happily worked second jobs before. I'd do it partially for the extra money and partially to build up a marketable skill that might give me flexibility in the future as my life changes.

Any advice? I'd appreciate any thoughts you have about this as a long term plan, but if you only have a minute, concrete steps and pros or cons related to getting a part-time job as an accountant are what I most seek, e.g. "get this certification online, then apply for a job here. they staff up for the tax season rush in December."

(This is anonymous since co-workers know my username.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's totally easy to get trained to do taxes -- that's how H&R Block and Liberty and the like staff their offices. You're running a little late for trying to get trained for this coming tax season, though, as usually those classes start in September. They do sometimes run some intensive classes later in the year if they don't think they're going to staff up a given region with the people they've got, but they'll be full time study for a couple of weeks, not something you can do around your day job.

It's not really something that will help you become an accountant, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:43 PM on October 23, 2013

Info on the H&R Block training class can be found here.
posted by jabes at 4:44 PM on October 23, 2013

You don't need any special schooling to do taxes at a storefront tax place. Your pay there will depend on your ability to sell poor people predatory lending products.

Most accountants who open up shop are CPAs and they do small business taxes and some personal taxes.

Take some intro level accounting classes on line (free at MIT). see how you like it. Then decide.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:45 PM on October 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

We--since I back doing it again even though I don't want to be one for the rest of my life, I'd probably happily trade you, ha--do take a lot of part-time help, but even though we end up working evenings/weekends, I've never met someone who exclusively worked evenings/weekends. HR Block and Jackson Hewitt might, although their pay structure is pretty lousy, if you had a day job it'd still be a way to build some experience. I would suggest your best bet would be to do accounting courses evenings/weekends--you might not be ready to go for next year, but if you already have a college degree then you don't have to get another degree to get sufficient accounting courses to take the CPA. (They do need to be accredited, though.) Just being able to take the CPA is generally enough background to get a job, I think, you don't have to have already taken the test or anything.

Just plain doing taxes is pretty easy, especially if you're capable of reading the instructions. But definitely try to get a position with someone else first; if you go solo, you're not in a great position to know what questions to ask people to find out if there's something they aren't telling you.

All of this said, try to look early on at whether you want to work for a large firm or a small one. Large ones, your credentials will matter a lot more but the pay is a lot better. Small ones, the atmosphere is a lot better but the pay isn't always what you would think. If your current job is something that could ever be you in business for yourself, knowing accounting would be useful for that, too.

If you want help or anything at any point, drop me a line. Good luck figuring yourself out!
posted by Sequence at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

The type of people who tend to go into business for themselves are generally CPAs that generally focus on taxes. You'd probably be working for upper-middle class or rich people doing their personal income taxes and/or small business taxes.

If that is your ultimate goal, a tax preparer job is somewhat related, but probably isn't all that helpful. Tax prep is generally fairly mechanical in nature - you look at an individual's documents, then you put the right numbers into the right places on the right tax form. Most college-educated people can do this without too much trouble, and your pay will reflect that. Any questions you would be dealing with will probably have pretty cut-and-dry answers.

As a CPA doing tax returns, you'd be more focused on tax planning and dealing with lots of investments, assets, rental properties, foreign assets, small business/contractor income. The answers to the questions your clients have may not have defined answers. You may end up representing them to the IRS, so you'll have to be able to do solid research and be able to back up your choices.

To be able to sit for the CPA exam, you will need a master's degree or 150 credit hours. There will be specific course requirements that will vary on the state. Passing the exam isn't that end of it - there are also work experience requirements. Many states no longer require that you work at a public accounting firm, but you will almost certainly have to work under an existing CPA in some way.

...but that's just taxes. There are a lot of other aspects to "accounting", some of which also require a CPA license, most of which do not. They're probably more difficult to translate into a small business, however, and would often mean being an employee.
posted by shihchiun at 5:40 PM on October 23, 2013

Your age is a factor. Money Magazine once stated,
Lucrative, globally attractive jobs such as public accounting require four-year degrees, then an advanced degree or CPA designation, which takes years.

While those demands are fine for twentysomethings, accounting isn't a field for mid- or late-career changers. You won't recoup your investment. A better bet for those in transition: information technology.
This advice might only apply to people shooting for really high-paying accounting jobs.
posted by Noumenon at 10:54 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not sure if the pay scale will be appropriate but you may want to look into job titles such as Accounting technician or an Accounts payable/receivable clerk. These jobs do not generally have education requirements which can allow you to obtain experience at the professional level and potentially promote to an accountant level position in the future. Perhaps helpful to know: I am in my 30s and I work in Accounting at a state agency. You would not be doing CPA level work- you would not necessarily be doing 'taxes'. Instead you would be completing payments, reconciliations, reports, coding, audits, and other accounting transactions. Memail me if you want specific examples of desk duties, job requirements and/or payscales.
posted by W.S (disambiguation) at 12:32 AM on October 24, 2013

If you want to try out easy tax prep for a season without a huge time commitment (but also without pay) and get free training, check out a VITA tax program in your area. If you can't/don't want to volunteer, then I'd put in resumes at CPA shops around town, saying you can help with data entry, organization of client files, etc. This will get you much more valuable experience than a mall shop. VITA trains their people using the IRS' link and learn portal, which is pretty decent, and you could DIY to get a good overview of the relevant issues.

If you want to become a CPA, many states now require a BA/BS or MA/MS in accounting or a significant amount of work experience to sit for the exam. You could also become an enrolled agent or just a paid tax preparer (the IRS' ability to restrict the field of tax preparers has been struck down at the moment).

The type of tax prep you'd be doing at a mall tax prep place is very simple. To make any money without feeling like you're taking advantage of people (i.e. taking money from people who are just filling out a 1040EZ with W-2 wage income, trying to con them into refund anticipation loans), you have to do tax prep for businesses, which gets a bit more complex. But, IMO, the complexity is what makes it interesting. A lot of it is handled by software though, really.

While you can certainly 'leave your work at the office' won't be doing much 'leaving the office' during tax season(s) [Feb-Apr and Aug-Oct] if you plan to make enough money to support yourself.

You may also want to just look at being a bookkeeper. This requires no certification, and you can do it freelance for multiple small businesses or be an employee of one small business. If that interests you, start learning quickbooks (online and desktop) and double entry bookkeeping.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:55 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most accountants who open up shop are CPAs and they do small business taxes and some personal taxes.

Well actually there's also something called an enrolled agent that you can read up on.
posted by Dansaman at 12:29 PM on October 24, 2013

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