Imagine the work week ahead of you, not too far in the future:
One of your clients is acquiring another company and wants to know how to structure the transaction to minimize tax liabilities.
Another client needs to understand the income tax and property tax implications for several states being considered for new distribution centers.
And a third — a big tech company — is planning a data center in Europe, but wants to understand how EU and individual country tax laws would affect the finances. You’re just starting to handle more international work and have joined the team handling the technology giant’s tax analysis.
And all your clients also want to know how new tax laws will affect their tax liability, and how that might change their financial statements.
They need your tax analysis skills to understand their options and make the right call.
The right decision, backed by insightful tax analysis, can mean more profits and higher stock values. The wrong decision, however, might mean lower profits and a sinking stock price.
“There’s not a decision a business makes that doesn’t have tax implications,” says Courtney Edwards, a clinical associate professor of accounting who focuses on tax in UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Master of Accounting program. “It is all about decision-making.”
Most day-to-day tax work is focused on understanding the intricacies of tax law and figuring out how that applies to a client’s business.
Tax accountants are highly sought after. They most commonly work for accounting firms and corporations.
Tax pros at public accounting firms often work with multiple clients over the course of the day. Unlike auditing, another accounting career path, tax accountants can take sides for their clients.
“You are their advocate,” Edwards says. “You’re actually saying ‘We’re going to pick the best choice for you within the bounds of the tax law and we’re going to support it and defend it.’”
On the corporate side, tax pros focus on a single business, mastering the tax issues that company and its industry faces. The scope of their responsibilities often depends on the size of the company’s tax department.
In a big multinational, individual tax accountants might focus on specific areas, such as state and local sales and use taxes, while working as part of a bigger tax team. In smaller companies, a handful of people, or even a single individual, might handle all state and federal taxes.
Tax accountants have plenty of career opportunities. Because they understand taxes, which factor in every business decision a company makes, they’re well positioned to advance senior ranks in a company, becoming CFO or leading mergers and acquisitions efforts, for example.
“Regardless of what you want to do, having some understanding and appreciation for tax is going to make you better for it,” Edwards says.
How do you know if tax is right for you?
Analyzing tax questions requires the ability to do research, understand how the law applies, and analyze the financial effects. Tax professionals need to know the client’s business and industry, so they understand how tax rules apply in that setting.
“Doing a tax return, answering a research question —it’s a satisfying exercise for a lot of people who like to do puzzles,” she says. “The work is intellectually challenging and stimulating.”
Solving a tax problem, Edwards says, provides the same kind of satisfaction that many people get from solving a tricky crossword puzzle or sudoku board. Tax professionals figure out how to apply the rules to benefit the client, within the bounds of the law.
Strong written and verbal communication skills are also important. “By definition you are working with people,” Edwards says. Tax pros collaborate other accountants, usually as part of a team, and regularly communicate with people throughout the company they’re working with.
It takes serious skills and know-how to become a tax professional. Fortunately, you can get the necessary education and credentials to start a tax career in as little as one year through a Master of Accounting degree (MAC) program.
UNC’s MAC can be earned through a traditional, on-campus program or a flexible, online program that allows students to learn on their schedule. Many online MAC graduates stay with their current employer, but shift direction or shoot up the career ladder faster because of their new finance, accounting, and tax knowledge.
Regardless of the format you choose, you’ll earn the same top-ranked degree, join the powerful UNC alumni network, and access career services to tune-up your résumé, sharpen your interview skills, and put you in front of potential employers.
Interested in learning more about how taking accounting classes will make improve your business savvy and fiscal intelligence? Download this free learning guide about some of the other financial insights you’ll receive as you earn a MAC degree.
The online Master of Accounting (MAC) degree from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School can give your career the boost it needs.