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Things You Should NOT Say to a Brand New CPA

Congratulations! You’re a CPA. Welcome to the dark side. Now that you’re one of us, it’s time you realize that nobody really understands what the hell CPAs do. Not even the A/P clerks. “Yeah, I’m an accountant too, but I didn’t have to go to college… I mostly do billing.”

We all know CPAs get clichéd reactions from strangers. Everybody assumes you work in tax. Everybody. Here are three of my personal favorite “You’re a CPA now” reactions:

  • “You should work at H&R Block! Those people make like $14 an hour!” Um, interns fetch my boss’s boss’s coffee for more than $14 an hour. Thanks, though.
  • “Oh, yeah – you’re busy in the spring because – personal income taxes, right?” Yep, that’s it.
  • “You must be REALLY good at math!” Yeah, it takes a real savant to foot a column of numbers on a ten key. Call me Rain Man. Granted, I’m probably better at math than an English major because I’ve taken a million math classes, but really, accounting is more about analysis and fitting a set of circumstances to a set of rules more than it is about the actual math. We have Excel for that.

Worse than the random clichéd misconceptions are the people who think that we are financial sorcerers qualified to answer complex questions immediately upon passing the CPA exam.

Case in point, just as I passed my last section of the CPA exam, I got a random phone call from an ex-boyfriend’s brother: “Hi, Leona. I want to start a farm harvesting soybeans in Mexico. What kind of US tax liability will I have?”

How the hell should I know what international farm tax regulations are? He called me when I was like – an accounting fetus. As a new accounting grad, I could barely write a V-Lookup function. I was (and likely still am) the last person you’d want anywhere near your extremely complex international farm tax issue. Answer: go pay money and talk to a tax attorney or a tax expert – preferably someone with more than like, six weeks of accounting experience and a signature on Another 71.

Finally, we have the biggest misconception of all: God help you if you think that I will work for free.

I received a real awesome phone call from a real distant relative about two weeks after I’d passed the exam. “Oh, heyyyyy, Leona… I haven’t talked to you in ten years, but could you help me develop this business plan for the three room motel in western Idaho that I want to open? And can you do it for free because we’re like family and stuff?”

Good to hear from you, Cousin Smitty. Work for free? Are you kidding? I gripe about working unpaid overtime at my PAYING job, and you people expect me to write a business plan for you for free? I will NOT write one for you for free. No, not even if you promise to rent me a room at your western Idaho motel for a night or two while I’m out touring the Wild West on horseback with a flask of Jim Beam strapped to my leg and a John Denver song in my heart. They never did find his head. Answer: No way, Jose. Not for free. Never in life.   

Provided you keep up with the CPE and don’t get yourself fired, you’re in for a lifetime of clichéd reactions and total misconceptions from people who really don’t know what the hell a CPA actually does. I’m not even entirely sure I understand what a CPA actually does and I am one.