How to Become an Accountant

Photo of a Tax Accountant

Lauren Vignec is a tax accountant at Erickson Wealth and Tax Management, and he has worked in this profession for the past two years. Lauren first studied at Seattle Central Community College and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of Washington. In addition to preparing tax returns and helping clients with tax and financial planning, Lauren also represents clients in IRS tax audits. Although he hasn’t had to yet, he is authorized to argue his clients’ tax cases all the way up to the Supreme Court. Lauren teaches continuing education classes about taxes, and he also produces online learning materials to help people address prominent tax issues.

What is a tax accountant?

A tax accountant is trained in tax law and prepares taxes, develops tax strategies, and/or represents clients to the IRS.

Why did you decide to become a tax accountant?

I decided to become a tax accountant because I enjoy the work of preparing taxes (especially the "fitting together the puzzle pieces" aspect) and because it is a very low-risk, somewhat high-reward occupation.

Are there common misconceptions about your profession?

The most common misconception is that tax accountants only work during tax season and work 25-hour days during that short window. While the work is definitely far more intense from February 15th to April 15th, many clients do end up going on extension. Also, tax planning can happen at any time, all year round. Finally, tax accountants who make effective use of technology and relate well with their clients can avoid the crushing stress of tax season. It does not have to be overwhelming, but you do have to deal well with both your clients and your technology platform.

What is a typical day like for you?

Normally I start the day writing pieces for a website, email blast or video. This material is used to keep clients informed and to prospect for new clients. Then I answer a whole lot of questions, usually by email. There is a big difference between how the day goes during tax season versus the rest of the year. During tax season, I spend all the rest of my time preparing tax returns on the tax software. Outside of tax season, most of the time is spent marketing, preparing for classes, and meeting with clients and prospects. There really is no typical workweek. During tax season I often work 60 hours per week, but during the summer months the workload is less, often 25- to 30-hour weeks.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?

The best part of the job is being able to immediately help people, immediately solve their problems, and immediately make their lives better or at least less stressful. This is especially powerful for me because I run my own business, so I work directly, one-on-one, with all my clients.

What are your least favorite aspects of your job?

The only bad part of the job is that many people look down on accounting as a career, which I find bizarre.

Is there anything you would have done differently while studying to become a tax accountant?

I was lucky. I had a mentor who taught me how to do taxes by having me actually do them. So there is nothing I would have changed.

What classes did you take in college that are the most relevant to your job?

Economics classes are definitely the most relevant to my job. Now obviously, anyone who wants to become a CPA must take accounting courses, and those courses are usually valuable. However, quite a lot of what is taught in most accounting classes doesn't really relate to doing taxes for individuals and small businesses.

What personality traits do you think would help someone to be successful as a tax accountant?

If you want to be a tax accountant you absolutely must have incredible attention to detail. All other personality traits are negotiable.

What personality traits do you think might hinder someone's success as a tax accountant?

Impulsiveness is a great character trait in some contexts, but not what most people are looking for in a tax accountant.

What advice, or words of caution, would you give to a student who is considering studying to become a tax accountant?

The biggest piece of advice I would give a student interested in tax accounting is that which school you go to is not going to matter much. People will care what your major is (it should probably be accounting) and they will care whether you have a CPA. But whether you got your degree from an Ivy League school or from State U. doesn't really matter as much as it might in other fields. There is no reason to go into a lot of debt if tax accounting is a career path you are interested in. This is one career path where getting the basics done at community college makes a lot of sense, and in purely economic terms, I would advise students to avoid expensive colleges.

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