Living the dream: Why tax pros became preparers

The reasons vary from happenstance to heredity, but tax preparers report standing by the reasons they choose this profession — even in the wake of a brutal tax season.

Enrolled Agent Twila Midwood of Advanced Tax Centre in Rockledge, Florida, got into the field “purely by accident. I started in private accounting and had a great mentor who pushed me to go into the public sector. From there, I was led into tax preparation and started working for my father,” she said, “who pushed me to become an EA.”

“I was studying for a degree in engineering until I couldn’t get into a chemistry class, so took an accounting class because I liked numbers and helped my Dad prepare both of our taxes,” recalled Brian Stoner, a CPA in Burbank, California. “Found out I really liked it, switched majors, then found after working in the field I really enjoyed preparing taxes much more than financial audits.”

“It just kind of happened,” said Nick Preusch, a CPA and tax manager with Top 100 Firm PBMares in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “I left the Internal Revenue Service after a government shutdown and wanted to pursue my CPA, so I joined a CPA firm where I could do tax controversy work while I took the exam.”

Expanding business

According to research firm Ibis, over the past six years tax prep in the U.S. was expected to grow nearly three percent and reach revenues of $10 billion in 2018. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for accountants were also expected to grow by 16 percent over the last decade.

Janie Biddix of Advanced Tax Specialists, in Dalton, Georgia, got into the profession for the job security. “As long as we have Congress regulating tax laws, we’ll need preparers,” she said. “Flexible hours were also an added benefit. Knowledge and skills learned in the profession can also carry over to other similar professions. The main reason for becoming a preparer is the personal fulfillment: The pay is great, but matching the numbers to find a way to get the taxpayer a larger refund or lesser amount due is self-rewarding.”

“I was fortunate to begin my career in 1982 with a CPA firm as an auditor and a preparer. When my own office was established, the tax services I provided increased substantially,” said EA Janet Sienicki in Schererville, Indiana. “I chose to advance my career and become an EA.”

Average set fees for 1040s and many other firms also generally increase gradually year after year, according to such sources as the “2018 Tax Professional Fee Study” from the National Association of Tax Professionals.

AT-112718-Tax Prep Fees NATP 2018

Changing times

But the profession comes with obvious stress and responsibility, especially as tax reform has become a partisan political football.

“The Tax Code is the rules for the game for wealth accumulation. Those that don’t understand it are the losers. Those that do, understand what they need to do to grow, protect and preserve their wealth,” said Chris Hardy, an EA and managing director at Georgia-based Paramount Tax and Accounting. “I enjoy showing others what they can do to reduce their greatest expense over the course of their life and then implementing these strategies.”

For many, the dream has come with being their own boss.

“I’ve always wanted to own my own business but it took moving to a tiny town for me to actually do it,” recalled EA Terri Ryman of Southwest Tax & Accounting in Elkhart, Kansas, which has a population of 2,500. “The only accountant in town was moving after my first tax season, so I decided to take a chance and establish a tax and accounting business.”

Ryman, now an EA for 32 years, quickly specialized in farms and ranches along with small businesses. “This was my second career,” she said, “my first being a corporate accountant … and I love it. I can see why folks prepare returns well into their 80s and 90s — although with more and more regulations and due diligence being piled on us, I may be re-thinking that position.”

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