Do You Really Need To Get Your CPA License?

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Every month I get at least a few emails that basically ask the same question:

“Do you really think getting the CPA license is necessary? I know this person and this person who makes this much or this much without it.”

This is an interesting question, and the answer isn’t as clear cut as you might think.

First of all, there are a lot of people out there who went to school for accounting and then did very well without every getting the CPA.

Just pulling from my own experience at a medium-sized firm, I’ve seen dozens of people churn in and out of public accounting at all levels; from new staff to partners. Obviously, anyone I’ve known that was a manager and above had their CPA, but from senior and below it’s very mixed.

I’ve read several articles on this topic, and they mostly just list a bunch of stats and all come to the same conclusion: that a bigger and bigger percentage of people who initially plan on getting the CPA end up not ever finishing it.

That’s not really a surprise: the CPA exams are extremely difficult, and with fail rates right around 50%… that simply leads to a lot of people never finishing the exams that had previously planned on it.

These are my own personal opinions, but here are a few considerations based on my own experience:

Do you want to stay in public accounting?

This one is pretty simple. If you want to move higher than senior in a public accounting firm, you will have to get your CPA. Not an option otherwise. And, getting your CPA before you’re a senior can be a major catalyst to getting promoted to senior. And the faster you get it, the “smarter” everyone thinks you are

Are you in tax?

This one is also simple, if you’re a tax person, you pretty much need your CPA to be taken seriously later in your career.

Do you plan to move out of accounting?

While it is possible to move up in the accounting hierarchy at certain companies without the CPA, you probably won’t become a controller, and you definitely won’t become a CFO without being a CPA. That being said, it’s not unheard of for someone to start in accounting at a company, and at some point move out of accounting and into management. Those roles won’t require a CPA- but they will definitely require other “intangibles”.

Which type of person are you?

In public accounting, there are basically two types of people: number droids and then accountants with soft skills. I remember one instance in my MAcc where I was complaining to a friend about a group project, and I described my group as “2 number guys and the rest of us don’t know what’s going on.” He looked at me really confused and said, “it’s a Masters degree in accounting – aren’t all of you ‘number guys’?”

But, there’s some truth there. There are some people at every firm that would much rather work in Excel all day then talk to clients or attend a bunch of meetings and have to talk to other people. Or the dreaded “business development”. If you can’t imagine having to generate new business or get new clients as part of your job, then you definitely want to get your CPA.

If you’re very much a “numbers person” and don’t really thrive in social situations, it would be extra important to get your CPA.

But, no matter which type of person you are, the CPA designation can only help no matter what the future opportunity is.

Plan on figuring some other things out

Going back to my observations at my own firm, the people who left public accounting pre-CPA went into industry as a “staff accountant” or a “accounting manager”. They jumped about $10k in salary, but they’ll likely either need to move out of accounting to move up much beyond that, or eventually get the CPA

It gets harder as time goes on

These same people have a vague goal of still getting the CPA “at some point”, but the reality is that it gets much harder with every year that goes by after you get done with school. So, there’s nothing inherently wrong about deciding you’re just not going to get the CPA, but if you still tell yourself you’re “gonna do it eventually”, quit messing around and just get it done

What guided my decision to get the CPA as fast as possible

For me personally, there were a few logical points in my mind that drove me to get finish the CPA exams as fast as possible.

  • I had spent several years of school and $40,000+ on a Bachelor’s and Master’s in accounting, so I saw the CPA as the logical end-goal of all that.
  • No matter what the future opportunity is, being a CPA is a big advantage and gives you a lot more credibility/prestige/perceived value compared to other applicants
  • The whole Becker thing about making a million more in your working life than a non-CPA. Who knows if that’s the exact number but the theory behind it is sound: as a CPA you’ll simply have better opportunities/better chances at getting the higher-paying positions. And getting them faster than non-CPAs

These were things I couldn’t get out of my mind, and were the reasons I worked so hard to get the CPA done as fast as I could

The 2 Biggest Reasons to Get Your CPA

There are 2 big reasons that no one can argue with, and provide an immense long-term return on the months you spend passing the CPA exams:

  1. You will always have a stable job, with an above-average salary
  2. You will always make more than a non-CPA in whatever position you’re in

If someone that’s your equal in years of experience makes an average of $70,000 per year, you’d be around $7,000 higher. That’s a big ROI year in and year out for just a few months of suffering (referring to passing the exams).

Podcast Transcript

And that’s something that will then return over a million dollars over your career. So, again, there are not many investments with those kind of ROI numbers. All right.

Welcome to Episode 14 of the CPA Exam Experience podcast from SuperfastCPA. I’m Nate, and I know we’ve been publishing these interviews each week. Lately, I still have several – more than several of those that are going to be published. But this topic is something I wanted to publish. I’ve been getting asked this more than normal. And it’s basically the question, “do I really need my CPA license?”

Do I really need to get my CPA? So in this episode, here’s some of the things we’re going to cover. We’re going to talk about what the question “do I need my CPA?” really means, and kind of my response to that. We’re gonna talk about having a stable and successful career without getting your CPA and maybe what that would look like. We will cover the top five benefits of being a CPA or meaning, getting your CPA. And then we’re gonna talk about the obvious truth about careers in general and how having your CPA changes that. Then we’ll go through a rough calculation of what every hour of CPA study is actually worth to the “future you,” and I think you’ll be surprised the amount on that. And then just some practical considerations. So before we get into this really quick, what I would recommend is, if you’re watching this for whatever reason, if you come across this a year from now, this will all be evergreen info. So the information in this will, basically never change. We’re not covering any specific topics that might change. What I would recommend you do is, go and find our podcast. We have a lot of very high value episodes that we’ve already published. Go and find the podcast. If you’re listening to this, you’ve already found the podcast. If you’re watching this on YouTube, there are some episodes. It’s a lot easier to just find the podcasts so you can listen to these whenever you have time kind of in the background or while you’re driving. But specifically, you should find the episode that’s titled “CPA Exams and Deep Work.” Find that episode and listen to that. That’s a very good one. Just has a lot of things that you need to hear that are kind of unrelated to the specific study strategies, but just as important at the same time. Then I would recommend you find the very first episode which covers my CPA story. And it’s not that I’m interested in people hearing my story. I don’t really care about that. It’s, it’s more hearing how the study process changed for me, based on my experience the first time around I failed FAR once, I had three distinct realizations of how I was going to study differently going forward from that. And after I did that, I ended up passing all four sections in one three month period. Back to back to back to back. No more failed sections, studying about two hours a day on workdays, because that’s all I had time for. And it was during my busy season, so. I got completely different results, obviously, because when I failed FAR the first time, I had all day, every day to study. So listen to that episode and then any of the interviews we’ve done with past CPA customers. I think you’ll find very, very helpful. I mean, I would recommend you listen to all of them. If you find them useful, all I ask is that you tell a friend that’s working on their CPA exams. You don’t have to recommend our products or try to get them to buy anything. I think the episodes speak for themselves. They’re very valuable all by themselves. Even if you’re not interested in our study tools or anything like that. So all I ask, if you find these episodes useful, whether it’s a video, one of our walkthrough videos or a podcast episode, just recommend it to somebody – the specific episode you found helpful, recommend it to a friend… that’s working on their CPA exams. Now we’re publishing walkthrough videos on – where we go straight into practice problems. Those are only published on YouTube. So find our YouTube channel and subscribe. So you are notified when those come out. And then again, just the “fee”, because the, this whole free content side of things, the best way you can pay us something is just to recommend it to a friend or find the podcast on the podcast app and leave a review. All right. So now let’s get into the question, “Do I really need my CPA license?” So the question is, that I get asked a lot, and I’ve been getting asked this a lot more during this whole quarantine lockdown thing. People are finding extra time where they’re going and working on their CPA exams when they’ve maybe kind of slacked on it for the last few months or whatever. But there’s a lot more interest. I think also a part of it is people are realizing that going forward, if we are kind of headed into a recession, not even necessarily that we are, but just the realization that recessions, you know, ups and downs in the economy are going to happen, and having your CPA is the most distinct way in the accounting world to set yourself apart, make yourself more valuable. So there’s been more interest in general. And then along with that, people asking me, is it really that valuable? You know, this will take a few months. It will take a lot of money for me to try and take these exams, get a review course, all those things considered. Is it really necessary? Now when someone asks me that, what I think they’re really asking is. They want to hear that. No, you don’t need it. You know, you can have a stable, successful career. You can make a lot of money in your career without it. Now, is that true? That’s obviously possible. You know, the thing that people, when they when they asked me that, though, I feel like sometimes it’s a specific kind of person. They want to hear, you know, that no, you don’t need it. Everything will be your career will go exactly the same. You can just completely skip this. And you know that that may or may not be true to an extent. Maybe someone ends up having the same career essentially, even if they got their CPA. But there’s a lot more going into that than the simple question of do I need my CPA? It’s not really just a yes or no answer. First of all, one of the things I want you to understand is, the people that get the best jobs and move ahead and have a lot of options and they get paid a lot. They are proactive. They’re go getters. They strive to be the best at what they do. And the thing about all that is you’re going to have to do that if you want to have a stable career and have a lot of options and you’re always considered for promotions and you make more than your peers kind of in the same experience level group. You’re going to have to be one of those types of people anyways. And getting your CPA is like having a permanent badge that says or even proves I am that type of person. So that’s almost the biggest advantage to having your CPA. You know, not getting into all the specifics or this specific industry areas where it’s going to be an actual requirement to be a CPA. Having your CPA is just kind of having this proof that will always be attached to your name, that you are a proactive, smart go getter type person. So going along with that, if you plan on being that kind of person in your career, which I hope you are planning on that, then I guess my question would be, why wouldn’t you get your CPA? I mean, why wouldn’t you spend a few months of your life now, for this thing that is always going to benefit you and cause you to be paid more, be considered for promotions, you have a higher career ceiling… I’m getting ahead of myself, I have a slide about the top five benefits of being a CPA, and we’ll get into that in a second. Instead of having the mindset of “what can I avoid or what can I get out of?” you know, in your career, you should have the opposite mindset. You should have the mindset of what can I do to set myself apart that not everyone is willing to do? And again, the CPA is a very concrete example of that exact idea. There are a lot of people that go into accounting. There are a lot of people that go into accounting with the specific plan of getting their CPA. And the first few months goes bad. They might fail a few sections and they just kind of give up and convinced themselves they don’t really need their CPA. And a lot of those people will have great careers.

I’m not saying your life’s going to be a train wreck without your CPA, but there’s a lot of, there’s a lot more upside to having it, obviously, now. Yes. Like I said, you can move up, you can get promoted. You can earn a lot of money and be great at what you do without having your CPA, but having your CPA in addition to doing those things anyways, which again, those are like the basics. Those are like the bare minimum requirements to being that type of person that gets paid a lot for whatever they do. Having your CPA, if you’re already that type of person, will only amplify all those benefits and help you reach each new level in your career faster than you would have without it. So, again, it just adds upside to everything else you’re going to do in your career. All right. So now let’s just go over the top five reasons of having your CPA or the top five benefits of getting your CPA. You will always get paid more for the same job. That’s, that’s a fact. CPA versus a non CPA. So at each level, you will always be paid more for the same job. There’s not really anything else like that, that doing one little action one time will result in every year of your life, always getting paid more from this thing that you did in the past.

The next thing is having a much higher career ceiling, and that should be obvious that, we could go into a lot of things explaining the how and the what behind that. But I think you get it. You will always have a higher career ceiling as a CPA than a non CPA. You will just reach levels where the requirement is that, the distinction is that you have your CPA to even be able to apply for that job or whatever it is and going along with that. It’s kind of the same idea. You just have so many more options, so much more flexibility in your career and the career choices that you’ll have. Now, this one we talked about in the beginning, you will always have more job security as a CPA than a non CPA because, again, first of all, a lot of employers for certain jobs, that’s just a requirement.

And then second of all, the CPA, like we talked about, it’s just this badge, this permanent proof that you have, that you are that type of person. You’re the type of person that employers want to have. And I just got ahead of myself and already mentioned this bullet point. But it’s just that permanent badge that you’re a smart, high achiever, go getter. It’s just highly respected. You will always have that.

So a quick viewer poll as you’re watching this. I want you to go to the comments below, pause the video and just answer the question. Where are you at in your career and what is your reason for getting your CPA? It might be the general answer that I just want it, I know it’s going to be valuable. Or maybe you have some specific, you’re at a specific crossroads in your career where you’ve been informed that you need to get it, whatever that is. Let us know in the comments below. All right. Now, if you can’t tell what my answer to the question is, should you get your CPA? I think that if you are watching this, that means that you are somewhere on the accounting spectrum. You’re somewhere in this arena. If you’re even watching this video, then I think that the CPA will always be a benefit to you. And it is worth far more in the long run than the six to 12 months and the thousands of dollars that it will cost you in the next year or so to get it. So it will always be a far higher benefit. There’s just – it adds so much upside to the rest of your career for this tiny, you know, it might be, it might even get excruciating in this the whole study process, taking the exams. You might fail a section before you pass all four, you might, you might fail multiple sections. However, that goes for you, that doesn’t matter. The fact is, having your CPA, you know, 5, 10, 15 years from now, that will add so much upside starting from the first year that you have your CPA versus these relatively small costs over the next year or however long it takes you in terms of time, money and effort, you know, to study for and finish your exams. Now, we already covered this, but I think this is the most key point. Again, assuming that you’re planning on, or you already are kind of a go getter, you set yourself apart at work in all the ways that are possible to do that. You are planning on moving up or you’ve already moved up. You’re continually being promoted in your company or industry. Having your CPA just adds upside to all those other things you’re doing to already be that kind of a person. And it just gives you more flexibility and more options at every stage and arena within your career. And, of course, higher pay. Now, another thing that isn’t talked about that much, but is a very real factor is, the process of getting your CPA is transformative. It will give you a lot of confidence in your own abilities. And again, being able to say you’re a CPA, the people that kind of matter in your career, whether it’s the partners above you, management, the people you’re talking to, to possibly move jobs to a different company. Anyone that is a decision maker having anything to do with where you’re able to go in your career, they know what being a CPA means and being a CPA is just a tangible reflection or again, proof, of those abilities. So it gives you a lot of confidence in yourself and your own abilities. So the inward facing things that the, getting your CPA provides to you personally, but then having the CPA, having those three letters after your name, is an outward reflection and it communicates a specific level of value to the people that matter in your career. Now, getting into the ROI side of it or getting into some specifics, if you break this down and this is something that might cost you if you do it right – If you do the study process right, and that’s where we could really help, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But if you do this right, it should only take you, all things said and done, you know, 6 to 12 months, maybe even faster, obviously. But somewhere between 6 to 12 months of time and effort to pass the four exams. And getting a review course, the exam fees and everything, it’ll cost somewhere between four to five thousand dollars. And that’s something that will then return over a million dollars over your career. So, again, there are not many investments with those kind of ROI numbers. And by the way, on this million dollar thing, it seems like Becker is the one that kind of promotes this idea. And it’s very true.

If you just kind of run some of the basic numbers, or you can go through kind of the like the Robert Half salary guide within the accounting profession and extrapolate these numbers and figure out that that’s a very realistic thing. And that’s only referring to earnings like what you’re getting paid in salary and stuff like that. But if you do some rough calculations and you factor in how much more you would have to invest each month by earning an extra million over your working life, that could turn into far more than a than a million. And that’s extra capital that you wouldn’t have had to invest. That’s just a side note, another consideration. But it could be, in a very real sense, worth a lot more than a million over your career. If you look at it that way. Now, if you break this down, let’s just stick with the million dollar number. And let’s say that you spend anywhere from two hundred and fifty to five hundred hours total on the four exams, which is very realistic. Again, when you’re studying effectively, every effective hour spent on the study process is worth $2,000 to $4,000 to your future self. So that is a good way of thinking about when you don’t feel like studying. OK, if I sit down and do my two hours this morning, that’s four to eight thousand dollars I’m paying myself in the future. And that’s a very real – that’s a very realistic estimation to make. Again, the CPA is by far the most valuable and respected accounting certification or designation. So I would say do the CPA first. Again, if you’re anywhere near the accounting profession in or out of public accounting and you’re watching this video, I would focus on the CPA first. That’s by far the most valuable designation. And then do the other ones later if you want. Now, let’s go over some practical considerations.

Do you want to stay in public accounting? If you think that’s even a maybe, then you want to get your CPA as fast as possible. Now, even this question is a great example of the flexibility aspect that getting your CPA affords you. You might not know if you want to stay in public accounting. You might think for sure that you want to be in public accounting and you’re gunning to be a partner. You might think that you want nothing to do with public accounting. It’s your first year. It sucks. You’re busy all the time. You have no free time. You’re hating it so far. You’re confused all the time. You’re in the learning process like, you’re at the bottom of the learning curve, so to speak. You might think you want nothing to do with public accounting. Those ideas could change in your head drastically either way in the next three to five years. So, again, what would give you the most flexibility? It would obviously be buckling down, spending a year, your free time, sacrifice the free time you do have or you create free time to study. Regardless, you get your CPA because that affords you the flexibility to make that decision from a place of truly what you want to do. And you’re not forced to leave public accounting because you’re, you know, a three year senior and you never got your CPA. If you’re in tax, that’s another thing where if you’re going to work in tax, you need your CPA. Bottom line. The other thing is, do you plan to move outside the accounting track? Maybe you’re much more interested in just general business management then, you know, the CPA might not be as important 10 years down the road. But again, you’re going to have to be, to always be moving up, getting the best jobs, getting paid a lot for what you do. You’re going to have to be kind of an all star regardless. And spending six months to a year getting your CPA would only add upside to that whole calculation, even if that is your plan. Another consideration is if you’re the type of person that has a lot of soft skills, you’re great dealing with people or are you a numbers person?

If you’re kind of the numbers person and you’re great at your job, like your literal job in front of you, meaning what you do on a computer each day, and the idea of ever doing business development or kind of schmoozing clients terrifies you or is something you don’t want to have anything to do with. Then for you, getting your CPA is even more important. But again, it just kind of goes back to even if you are the client schmoozer, you’re great at business development. Having your CPA.. And I don’t even know why I’m saying this, because if you’re that kind of person, you’re end up being a, you’re going to end up being a manager or a partner. And you obviously need to have your CPA at that point. All right. So a recap. In my opinion, if you’re watching this video, you should set aside the 6 to 12 months and just buckle down and get your CPA. You will always be glad that you did it. It will never be something that you regret. Now, you obviously can have a stable job in accounting without your CPA by being a good employee. But for anything great to happen to you in your career, you will have to be great.

And I would say if you’re going to put in that kind of time and effort, then the 6 to 12 months of getting your CPA only adds upside to that equation and really is not that big of a cost in the long run. Having your CPA means that you will always get paid more for the same job. You have higher career ceiling, more options, better job security, et cetera. We already went over that stuff. Now, if this happens to be the first video or podcast episode you’ve ever heard from us from SuperfastCPA, the whole thing with us is how you study is the secret to passing your CPA exams.

The last thing you want to do is sit down each day without a real plan or a real strategy and just pour hundreds of hours into the CPA study process and then end up failing sections and eventually giving up. Because by then you’ve invested thousands in review materials, you’ve invested hundreds of hours of your time. And so to not get it at that point would be a small tragedy that you could avoid by just having an effective study plan from the beginning. And that is what we specialize in, our study strategies and then our study tools. So what we teach our customers specifically, we have a free one hour training where we will teach you how to have a two hour main study session structured completely differently than the normal way of studying. When you do this right, you can get more done in two hours than someone studying four to five hours the “normal way.” To register for one of these trainings, just go to superfastcpa.com/passnow, or you can text the word PASSNOW as one word to 44222. Or just go down below, there will be a link in the description.

If you’re listening to the podcast, the easiest thing is just to go to our website, it’s easy to find a link to one of these upcoming trainings. I hope you found this episode useful. If you’re one of those people out there that in the back of your mind or deep down, you kind of know that you should do your CPA, but you’ve kind of been putting it off or just avoiding the thought completely. Hopefully this video or this episode inspired you to just buckle down and do it. The best place to start is with one of these free one hour trainings.

This one hour training will literally save you months and months of time and frustration and hundreds or even thousands of dollars from avoiding filling sections and just getting your CPA exams done within the first 6 to 12 months instead of ending up messing around with this for years of your life. And that happens to a lot of people. I’ve talked to a lot of people that that ended up being their situation. So thank you for watching or listening, and we’ll see you on the next episode.

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