A Millennial’s View

Guest blog by: Isaac Bumgarden, audit intern, Eide Bailly LLP

Accountant: the career that seems like it’s filled with numbers nerds, gloomy days reading over spreadsheets and days spent typing away on a calculator. If we’re talking about a public accountant, everyone thinks you’re an evil number cruncher who’s up to no good (and maybe even works for the IRS).

So how does someone, let alone a millennial, decide accounting is the right career path?

As you know, everyone is different (yes, even us millennials have different tastes and interests). While I don’t speak for everyone, it seems a majority of millennials have a similar experience when it comes to choosing a career, especially if they landed on accounting. When looking at the accounting profession (at least before having much exposure to it), we tend to think of someone sitting behind a desk, quickly punching numbers into a calculator all day, or even someone working for the IRS – and often times, these views don’t seem to sit well with us millennials. After all, we are said to be a social generation which thrives off of each other.

However, college and schooling comes around, and a whole new world presents itself. Rather than hearing about the IRS auditors, you start learning about different options in the accounting world.

“A CFO? What’s that?”

            “There are other auditors besides the IRS? Well what’s the difference?”

           “I can open up my own tax accounting firm in my small home town if I                           understand this stuff?”

You begin to realize that maybe accounting isn’t a one-size-fits-all career path, and there might even be something about it that catches your eye. In fact, I see accounting as a door that leads to a lot of potential in the business world, which is something I never would have even thought of on my own.

Many of the potential scenarios in accounting appeal to us millennials if we are exposed to these options. If you enjoy being alone, maybe the traditional accounting job is for you. If you like interacting with people, take a look at the business side of accounting, such as being a CFO, where you get to go in and work alongside different companies. If travel is your idea of an ideal career, maybe an auditor is the right choice for you. There are many different opportunities and possibilities for each personality and skill set.

For myself (and other millennials, too) and even the general public, accounting is often seen as a boring profession, as explained before. However, accounting is so much more than just the numbers. Public accounting is not only a way to help individuals, but businesses as well.

Being an auditor allows you to help businesses be sure they are on the right track both legally and financially. If you’re the tax man (or woman), you can make sure individuals, families and businesses are being taxed properly, which can lead to saved money and greater revenue and income. Many people don’t realize accounting truly allows you to help people do what they love.

It seems the reason millennials aren’t choosing accounting as readily as other generations simply stems from the lack of information about what accounting really entails. When it comes to accounting, you’re never really stuck in one area. We millennials enjoy variety and a change in scenery, and accounting allows us to have just that.

Is it a Hobby or a Business?

Every business idea, no matter how big or small, starts somewhere. Whether it came from a random daydream or a well thought out business plan, your idea was fueled by something you thought the world needed.

Perhaps you had another job or responsibility you were attending to at the time, and you weren’t able to devote all your time and resources to your new idea. Instead, you kept it as a side project which turned in to a fun little hobby.

While keeping your main job and running a hobby business can be fun and energizing (after all, you’re running your own business now!), there are certain tax implications that must be taken into consideration when your business idea is just a hobby.

Your tax liability will be affected depending upon whether your work is classified as an actual business or as a hobby. Here are nine factors from the IRS regulations used to determine if an activity is a business or a hobby:

  • Do you conduct the activity in a businesslike manner? This includes keeping accurate books and records and pursuing operating methods and business techniques with the motive of turning a profit.
  • Do you have expertise in the business?
  • Do you devote much time and effort in carrying on the activity?
  • Are the assets of the activity expected to appreciate in value?
  • Have you had success in starting a new business or converting an unprofitable business into a profitable one?
  • Is the history of income or losses from the activity indicative to a profit motive? If you have continued losses, this may suggest that the activity is a hobby. There is a safe-harbor rule that states if you generate a profit in three out of five years, your activity is deemed a trade or business. For horse racing, breeding, training or showing the test is two out of the last seven years. The IRS can still disagree, but the burden of proof to show the activity is a hobby versus a trade or business has now shifted from you to them.
  • What is the amount of profits in relations to losses? An occasional small profit in an activity which generates large losses or from an activity in which a large investment has been made would not necessarily translate into a profit motive.
  • Do you have substantial income or capital from other sources? If so, losses from the activity may generate tax benefits by offsetting income from other sources, which is generally not looked kindly upon by the IRS.
  • Does the activity present personal pleasure or recreation? The IRS is more likely to attack an activity that has recreational elements such as racing, horse or dog training or showing, or even weekend farming, rather than tax preparation services (although we think this is kind of fun!).

So what does this mean for you? Any form and amount of income, no matter where it is coming from, is taxable and should be reported. However, hobby activities are reported differently than trade or business activities and have certain limitations. On a positive note, hobby activities are not subject to self-employment tax. However, expenses related to hobby activities are only deductible as itemized deductions subject to 2% of adjusted gross income. Taxpayers who utilize the standard deduction do not receive any benefit from these expenses and those with higher income will also be limited. Additionally, retirement plan contributions, self-employed health insurance and an array of other deductions cannot be used to offset hobby income.

The moral of the story…

The IRS needs to know about any money you’re bringing in, whether it’s from your daily job, or the hobby app building company you run from your garage. If your business is just a hobby, remember you still need to report it and planning can go a long way in terms of tax benefits and pitfalls.

Tax Accountants, CFOs & Bookeepers … Oh My!

When people hear I’m an accountant and used to be an auditor, I can put money on the next two statements that come out of their mouth. “Oh, so you do taxes?” and “I didn’t know you worked for the IRS!”

I mean, yes, I have done taxes, but that’s a very small portion of my work. In fact, many of my colleagues don’t do any taxes and probably never will. And we’ve said it before, but we will remind you again: just because someone is an auditor does not mean they work for the IRS.

This leads me to my point. Although some accountants do taxes and some go on to work for the IRS, there are many more areas that accountants find themselves working in. In fact, there are so many unique areas that we thought we would break them down for you. Here are some of the different types of accountants:

  • Tax Auditor – These accountants work for the government and help make sure tax returns are filed correctly.
  • Public Accounting Auditor – These accountants are employed by public accounting firms (like us!) and are hired by companies to make sure all accounting records and financial statements are accurate. They work closely with these companies to correct any issues, and make sure the company has good safeguards and controls around their accounting department.
  • Internal Auditor – I promise, this is the last auditor! This type of auditor is generally employed by a specific company and focuses on uncovering and correcting inefficiencies and preventing fraud within the organization. They also check the work of the accounting department to ensure everything looks correct. They do all of this to help your business run better.
  • Tax Accountant – This type of accountant helps companies or individuals with all things related to, you guessed it, tax. This could be personal or business returns, tax planning, estate planning and even succession planning for their business. Tax accountants often focus on a specialized area of tax, such as international tax or state and local tax, to name a few.
  • Forensic Accountant – This type of accountant practices in a very specialized area of accounting focused around detecting and uncovering issues. This could be fraud, embezzlement or even bankruptcies. These accountants may also act as expert witnesses in court.
  • Bookkeeper – Working as a bookkeeper focuses on originating and organizing business transactions and entering this information into the accounting system. Common duties of a bookkeeper include sending customer invoices, processing cash receipts and paying bills, to name a few.
  • Controller – The Controller acts as a manager of the accounting department, and is responsible for all transactions and controls within the department. Often times, this includes the preparation of financial statements and checking to ensure there is accuracy throughout the department.
  • Chief Financial Officer –– This is a high-level accounting position in a business, which can sometimes be overseen by the president or vice president of finance in the organization. Being at such a high level, this position holds a substantial amount of responsibility. Some of the duties of a CFO include overseeing the accounting function, managing taxation of the business and assisting with strategic planning. It is safe to say that a CFO is not just a one trick pony. (To learn more about the cast of financial characters, check out this blog).
  • Consultant – This type of accountant brings a high subject matter expertise to their clients. They often times have many years of experience in many different areas of accounting, and can help a business with many of their needs, rather than focusing on one specific area. This could include strategic planning, implementing accounting systems, making sure the company is running efficiently or even helping a business grow.

Accountants are able to specialize in a certain area within their practice and are therefore able to meet clients’ specific needs. Specialization can also be fun for accountants (yes, we said fun!) because they are able to focus on what they enjoy.

So there you have it. We’re not all tax accountants and most of us have never, and will never, work for the IRS. However, we do come from different backgrounds that have given us vastly different experiences that have helped us decide where we belong in the world of accounting.

(Shameless plug: if any of these people sound like someone your business could use, contact us!)