How to get that much needed first experience….volunteer for VITA

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Guest Blogger: Kathy Zolton, CPA, Senior Lecturer of Accounting at UTD 

VITA is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program coordinated by the IRS and then implemented by partners in the community to provide free income tax return preparation for low income families.  Tax returns are prepared by certified volunteers.  The VITA program provides free tax preparation assistance to those that need it the most – low income and elderly tax payers.

But why would someone consider volunteering for VITA?  If you are a seasoned tax professional or consider yourself “not a tax person” – how can this help you?

Here are my TOP FIVE REASONS to volunteer with VITA (based on my working with students involved with VITA, along with sound bites from over the semesters).

  1. You like to meet people and hear their stories.

“There is always a story behind each tax return. Tax returns are always about people, family and life.  Never, ever judge a person by mere observation. Listen and talk.”

  1. You need a chance to learn in a safe environment with others reviewing your work because you are not perfect all of the time.

“Immersed in my self-confidence that I could finish all tax returns within eight minutes, my site manager told me that I failed my fifth tax return.”

  1. You want to improve your professional communication skills.

“This VITA experience polished my communication skills, not only on interacting with clients but also getting along with other volunteers as well as site managers.”

  1. You want to realize the value that CPAs bring to the business world.

“Professionalism is more than a responsibility, not only to the client, but also to the job.”

  1. You want to use your accounting skills to make a difference.

“As a taxation volunteer, I am happy to help file taxes for taxpayers. At the same time, I learned how to use tax knowledge. It is a win-win situation.”

“Learning taxation was just the master of the theory, but attending VITA made me put theory into practice. Moreover, I had a better understanding of the benefits that the US government provides to its citizens. “

“I don’t know what it is about doing taxes that I like so much. Maybe it is the look on people’s faces when I tell them what they are getting back or helping educate people on what kind of deduction they can take, either way I really loved it.”

Training for VITA Volunteers take place in December and January.  After you complete training, you must complete the online IRS VITA Volunteer Certification Exams.  Then you are ready to volunteer and make a difference in not only a community member’s life, but in yours as well!

Questions regarding VITA?  Look for your community’s VITA partner? Information is available at

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/free-tax-return-preparation-for-you-by-volunteers.

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Why Choose Accounting?

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Blogger: Su Kelly

As a college freshman, declaring a major was a source of stress and preoccupation for me.  I really did not know what discipline I wanted to concentrate on because I liked so many different things.  My college advisor suggested that I take advantage of the elective credits as opportunities to choose the courses that most interest me.  I still could not make up my mind.  But the most interesting subject to me at the time was mathematics.

Lucky for me, the same professor taught the two math courses I enrolled in, and she asked if I was majoring in mathematics.  I laughed and said “no” and explained that I was still undecided.  What happened next is one of the most defining moments of my life.  My professor said that if I loved math so much, then I should consider enrolling in one of the accounting classes. She assured me I’d love it too.  Love accounting? I wasn’t even sure what accounting was really about!  But I figured I had nothing to lose.  If I didn’t enjoy the accounting class as much as my professor thought I would, then the class would still count as an elective.  The following semester, I followed my professor’s advice and she was right!  I fell in love with accounting.

That semester I learned that accounting is not only a science, but also the beautiful language of business by which financial information is presented to all interested parties.  Call me an accounting romantic, but from the first moment I learned how to prepare the four financial statements, I’ve always considered how one statement flows to the other as beautiful as the movements of a symphony orchestra.  The way in which financial statements are sequenced; the way that the income statement leads into the statement of retained earnings, and that leads into the balance sheet, and for the beautiful and final movement: the statement of cash flows.

Why choose accounting?  Choose accounting because you love it, because it interests you in ways that bring joy and fulfillment to your life.  Accounting is all around us—domestically and abroad. The business world cannot operate without it.  Having passion for accounting can make the difference between working a job versus feeling excited for having the opportunity to work your passion.

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What Large Firms Expect From New Accounting Grads

Securing a job post-graduation won’t be an issue for most accounting students. But those looking to end up at the nation’s largest firms, where fast-paced environments can lead to lucrative career paths, will need more than good grades to get hired.

In this article from AICPA’s Extra Credit e-newsletter, recruiters from large firms (including the Big Four) weigh in on what they want to see from new hires. Check it out!

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10-Key vs. a Normal Calculator

Blogger: Malicka Modgil

Blogger: Malicka Modgil

A calculator is one of an accountant’s most useless or valuable tools. I say useless because Microsoft Excel can do all of the functions that the most high-tech calculators can do. However, we rarely take out our laptops and open Excel whenever we have to do quick calculations. It is easier to take out a handy calculator. For me, my 10-key is my lifeline.

During an audit internship, my firm issued all of us the standard work laptop, dual monitor, USB mouse, and a USB 10-key. I quickly learned that this 10-key would become my best friend. Data entry was a breeze, because I could efficiently enter numbers in half the time. On the other hand, the multiple wires were very irritating, so I went on Amazon and bought a wireless 10-key. I splurged and bought the 10-key that has a dual mode; it can connect to your computer as part of your keyboard, and can be a calculator on its own. Because I used this 10-key multiple times a day, I was able to memorize where the keys were and never needed to look at it.

This made everything so much easier! Data entry, homework, calculating a tip at a restaurant; all could be done in half the time. (Yes – I am an aspiring accountant who still uses a calculator to calculate tip.) It has come to the point that I prefer my 10-key over any other calculator. After finishing all my required calculus and finance classes, there really isn’t much use for all the functions on a scientific or financial calculator. With a normal calculator, you can’t effortlessly type the keys without looking.

It’s refreshing to realize how a small item, like a calculator, is such an important thing in your life. Since I’ve gotten so used to it and use it daily, I don’t know what I would do without my handy 10-key.

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Starting College Off Right

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Blogger: Kenny Nguyen

The shift from high school to college can be a terrifying experience. You are granted with more independence than you can handle and have no idea what you’re doing. What should you do? The best advice I have for freshmen is to get out of your comfort zone and be open-minded. College is a time where you truly discover yourself and what you are passionate about. You are no longer confined to your parent’s way of thinking and can truly find who you are. Below are some of the tips I have for current and incoming freshmen who want to succeed in college.

Be Active and Get Involved

I can’t stress how important this is for freshmen. Joining organizations on campus not only shows potential employers that you are involved on campus, but it also provides an opportunity for you to develop valuable skills. You learn to work with a group of people who you may or may not always agree with. You learn how to manage your time through balancing school work and your organization. Most importantly though, you may develop a passion that you did not know you had.

You Will Fail

One of the most common fears among freshmen is failing. The best way to overcome this fear is to know that it will happen. Failing in college is inevitable, whether that is failing a quiz, test, getting denied for an internship, or getting rejected at a party. Failure in college will only help you in the long run, because it provides you an opportunity to learn from it. So, don’t fear failure – embrace it and use it to grow.

Network, Network, Network

Lastly, as a freshman, you have to start networking. You may not think it is necessary for you to talk to your professors and employers who visit early on, but developing relationships with people you meet is vital, because you never know who’s going to be able to help you in the long run. Don’t just talk to as many people as you can and create superficial relationships, but build individual relationships. It may take more work, but it will pay off in the long run.

Freshman Year in Review

Above all, remember that freshman year is going to be one of the most exciting times in your life. You’ll experience new things, make meaningful relationships, and continue to discover yourself. Though the above tips may not be everything you need to succeed in college, it is a great way to start. Good luck!

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Get Ahead in Your Career—Volunteer!

Volunteering might not be a top priority during your college career or as you prepare for the CPA exam, but there are numerous reasons to consider donating your time. First and foremost, it’s a great way to make a difference in your local community and give back to people and organizations in need. Volunteering also provides an opportunity to make new friends, expand your network, and increase your social and relationship skills.

But did you know that volunteers also have higher odds of finding employment in today’s job market? A report from the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteers have a 27 percent higher chance of finding a job than non-volunteers. Volunteering shows initiative, effective time management and demonstrates an excellent work ethic.

Looking to get involved? Check out this list of volunteer opportunities for accounting students, candidates and young professionals.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is an IRS program designed to help low- and moderate-income taxpayers complete their annual tax returns at no cost. Volunteers learn how to prepare individual tax returns and help taxpayers get the tax credits and deductions they are entitled to. The VITA program allows you to work on real tax returns and gain valuable experience that can help in your future career.

The first step to becoming a tax volunteer is to find a sponsoring organization that partners with the IRS. Submit your contact information using the VITA Volunteer Sign Up or talk to an accounting professor at your college to see if they already have a VITA partnership.

“VITA provides an opportunity for students to make a difference in the community, develop job skills, meet new people and enhance their education,” says Louis Tatum, CPA–Corpus Christi, TSCPA member, and VITA volunteer for the past seven years. “Volunteering provides great networking opportunities and can be a great asset to your resume. Many CPAs I’ve met in my career have indicated that real-world experience like VITA is a plus when hiring young employees.”

For more information, visit https://www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-tax-volunteers.

Volunteer Opportunities with the Texas Society of CPAs

Becoming a member of TSCPA opens the door to numerous volunteer opportunities. Each of our 20 chapters across Texas is committed to giving back to the local community through volunteer and service activities.

Now is the perfect time to get involved! During the month of November, TSCPA is hosting the statewide CPA Month of Service. This month-long service event represents the CPA profession’s ongoing commitment to serving the communities where its professionals live and work.

Volunteer anywhere you’re passionate about! Are you an animal lover? Why not volunteer at a local animal shelter or humane society. Love kids? Get involved with a local mentorship or tutoring program.  Are you interested in protecting the environment? Organize a local park or beach clean-up event. The possibilities are endless and choosing a cause you are passionate about will deliver the greatest reward.

You can register as an individual or volunteer with your local TSCPA chapter. Click here to see what TSCPA chapters have planned or contact your local chapter to find out how you can get involved.

Become a TSCPA Student Campus Representative

TSCPA is always looking for student representatives to serve as our connection to campuses throughout the state. Our goal is to strengthen TSCPA’s presence on college campuses, share information across the state and learn more about what we can do to support Texas students as they work towards becoming a CPA.

As a campus rep, you’ll distribute TSCPA membership applications and help spread the word about the organization and the benefits of becoming a student member. In return, you’ll receive a complimentary student membership ($35 value per year) and all the perks that come with that membership, including all TSCPA publications, unlimited access to exclusive members-only areas on our website and the benefits of listing TSCPA on your resume to show future employers your commitment to the CPA profession.

Email Catherine Raffetto for more information on becoming a student rep.

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Recommended Reading for Accounting Students, Candidates and Young CPAs

Are you continually searching for books to add to your Kindle wish list? Maybe you’re in need of a good summer read for your next vacation or pool day? We asked several TSCPA members which books they would recommend for students or young CPAs who are just beginning their accounting career journey.  Check out the reading material they recommend for inspiration and motivation in both your career and personal life:

Kathy Kapka, CPA, TSCPA Chairman and Senior Lecturer of Accounting at The University of Texas at Tyler

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Kathy says: “I am currently reading [this book] for the second time, and am enjoying it all over again! This novel is fiction, but also very thought-provoking. The story line is about a man who finds himself lost in life without a rudder and the people he encounters who are not what they seem. It’s a satire about the human condition that is masterfully written. Anyone who is approaching change in their life, whether it’s starting college, a new job or moving to an unfamiliar place, will benefit from reading this novel!”

Kim Turner, CPA, Chief Audit Executive for the Texas Tech University System

  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Kim says: “Change is inevitable, but it can be scary to imagine and difficult to accomplish. The authors give us a new way to look at change through numerous real-life examples in which one small thing (the switch) has been the catalyst for huge changes. The book is a fast and engaging read about how one person – no matter their position in an organization – can spur audacious changes at work, at home and in their community.”

 Ryan Bartholomee, CPA, CFO at Shenandoah Petroleum Corporation

  • Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by David Ramsey

Ryan says: “I read this book early on in my career and it helped my wife and I get on the same page financially and to become goal-oriented in multiple areas of our lives. We were not intentional in our finances, even though I knew the right concepts from the finance courses that I took on the way to my accounting degree. Writing down goals and working hard to achieve them helped in my career. I’ve had doors open for me that I never would have dreamed would come this early on in my career. Stay humble.Work hard. Set goals and track your progress. Be consistent and always be improving your communication skills.”

Allyson Baumeister, CPA, Principal in Charge at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP and TSCPA Immediate Past Chairman

  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Allyson says: “Please don’t let the fact that this is a book for tweens stop you! Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy travel across Manhattan, from flea markets to fancy office buildings, searching for keys that will unlock an odd box left to Jeremy by his father. They find adventure and maturity along the way. One of my all-time favorites!”

  • Good to Great by Jim Collins

Allyson says: “One of the best business books ever written! Jim Collins and a team of researchers studied 6000 articles, generated more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts and created 384 megabytes of computer data over a five-year period. Their goal was to determine why some companies achieve the level of great, while most only make it to good, or fail in the effort altogether. Their findings can be applied by anyone.”

Tim Pike, CPA, Partner at Howard LLP

  • The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

Tim says: “This book discusses various psychological and spiritual ideas as the main character undertakes a journey to find and understand a series of nine ancient manuscripts in Peru. This book has several philosophical considerations that can be applied to life. When I first read this book, it opened my eyes to considering various points-of-view before forming conclusions.”

  • The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Tim Says: “Ultimately, this book provides techniques to increase productivity, job satisfaction and personal prosperity. As the title suggests, it promotes the ‘less is more’ approach. I chose this book because, despite references in the title, there are several cross-lessons that are crucial to becoming an effective leader in an organization, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a student in an undergraduate program.”

What are you currently reading this summer? Share your book recommendations in the comments below!

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