Reflecting on my tortuous journey to become a CPA

Posted on Posted in Financial Planning

Tonight I was reflecting on the long tortuous process of getting my CPA license and considered that perhaps it might be one of the most twisted paths to get into the profession. You might find the details amusing:

For the first 19 years of self-employment my practice functioned in the area of compensation and benefits planning without a professional license. I had evolved from the general agent of a small diversified financial services sales office in Pennsylvania to a focus on benefits planning and writing from my home in New Jersey. It was less stress and allowed me to focus on a higher quality of work. My practice was solid and growing by the mid 2000s and I was getting a growing number of requests for speaking engagements, recorded presentations and professional convention presentations in my areas of expertise.

I decided to sit for the CPA exam 10 years ago in my state of NJ at the request of my publisher. She felt that my publications would be more marketable if I had the CPA. (They’ve since gone out of business). I eventually passed all four sections of the CPA exam but one section fell outside the allowed 18 month window. The average pass rate for each section of the exam is about 40% so that means that a candidate typically takes each section of the exam two or three times. Each test represents 40-80 hours of studying so the total study time is about 500 hours.

After rescheduling that exam section, studying again, and while only days away from retaking the last test I was hit by a truck and had to take 5 years off to recover from TBI. It was a difficult time for me and my prognosis did not indicate the likelihood of a return to professional work. Gradually I recovered to the point where I wondered if it might be possible to make a comeback.

During this time all my other (non-CPA) business licenses and certifications lapsed my practice closed and my clients moved onward. When I finally gathered the courage and confidence to try to return to the profession, I had to take all 4 sections of the test again and I was unsure when I started the process whether this would be possible for me now. I had to learn new study techniques to compensate for the post-injury brain. It took even longer and was more difficult for me than the first time. More money, many more hours.

Then when I passed he exam I applied for my CPA license with the NJ state Board of Accountancy. They denied my application because the professional experience when I worked for a CPA was more than a decade old. So I turned to the state of Delaware that issues a CPA license (without experience requirement) separately from the license to practice. So I took a low paying entry-level auditing job with the PA Public Utility Commission (pretty much the same type of job as I had the first year out of college) for a year just to meet the experience requirements. It was a miserable experience, the best I can say is that it is done. Although I hoped to remain working in the interesting field of public energy policy management, this particular work environment was intolerable.

Finally, I want back to DE to have the separate CPA License to Practice issued that had to go before the state board again. That license was issued last week.

Now, notwithstanding the liberal reciprocity allowances between states that allow CPAs to engage in inter-state practices, I should probably go back to the NJ Board and apply for a license in my home state as a practical matter to make CPE tracking easier and make it easier for consumers to check the license.

The process represents thousands of invested dollars and almost a thousand invested hours. Of course I’m relieved that it’s over. But mostly I’m nervous because I know that I have a huge job ahead making up all those years of lost income while starting from “zero” with no job and no clients. The smartest approach is to look at today’s mile-mark as the beginning of a new chapter rather than the end of the story.

So here I am, at age 53, ready to re-launch a career just the same as I was so many years ago; hopefully I’ll be a bit smarter and avoid some of the pitfalls this time around and take the time to appreciate each step along the way.

What a journey so far!

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