Career paths in tax: Where do you want to start your career?

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Work is a necessity, something we realize early in life. Moreover, there are two absolute requirements in this life: death and taxes. While we live on this great big marble, tax—though challenging for almost all humankind—makes for an interesting career path. Taxes come in many forms, and working in this field provides a significant amount of variation!

When our country was founded, taxation was simple compared to today’s regimes. The income tax system had a brief appearance during the Civil War, only to disappear for some time until an amendment made it permanent. During the depression, sales tax became a necessity because, as many states’ legislators put it, the governing bodies needed to raise revenue during those hard times. One has to wonder why we still have sales tax all these many years later. Add in property tax, gift tax, estate tax, excise tax, and payroll tax, and we find many opportunities for careers in tax.

Tax is somewhat like the medical field. In medicine, you have specialists: cardiologists, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, and so on. People specialize in tax as well. For instance, as the income tax system continues to grow, complexity increases. We can see the same issues in sales tax. Since the Wayfair decision, sales tax has become a bit more complex, no? The nexus regime took a tumble, and internet sellers are now charging taxes in almost all cases. Software has been a huge help for the compliance piece in sales tax. In the past, it was seemingly straightforward and a bit less complex, but now we see companies working to comply with many states’ sales tax requirements with the help of software. One can only imagine the potential for growth in careers in sales tax.

Now, let’s circle back to the income tax. There are so many areas within income tax that someone might wish to work in. Some might decide to be a generalist, having broad knowledge about individual, corporate, S corps, and partnership taxation. Some even tack on estates and trusts. Often, professionals will gravitate to one area of tax. The program director in Georgia State University’s Master of Taxation program once exclaimed there were some tax professionals working on one particular code section, and would likely do so for their entire career. That’s dedication.

A practitioner may determine that partnerships are really interesting, and will dedicate a significant portion of time to understanding partnership taxation. Subchapter K isn’t exactly regarded as a simple area of the code; anyone working in this subchapter must be diligent to stay abreast of any changes to the code sections and the regulations associated with the partnership rules, not to mention the court cases. This is no small task! A senior partner at KPMG—someone working in the partnership space—once told me he spent around 1-2 hours per day reading about partnership taxation. He said it was absolutely needed if someone wanted to be proficient.

We see there are many roles in tax. Whether someone wants to work in sales tax, income tax, or even estate and gift taxation, the sky really is the limit. A practitioner might decide to engage in tax controversy work, taking on the IRS or the various states’ departments of taxation. It’s quite thrilling to challenge assertions made by government tax offices, and it’s always a real pleasure to help the IRS and your client understand how the issue can be remedied, especially when it’s in the client’s favor.

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