Pro Spotlight: Adriana Rahrig On Becoming A CPA, Taking A Leap Of Faith, And How She Maintains Work/Life Balance
Adriana Rahrig's journey into tax accounting began with a passion for structure and organization. She discovered her knack for the field while doing her parents' taxes when she was young. This led her to pursue a career in accounting, finding comfort in the clear-cut guidelines and the search for definitive answers within tax law. Obtaining her CPA license early on, Adriana solidified her expertise and positioned herself for continued success. Her story showcases the importance of qualified tax preparers and the value of the CPA license in the industry.
Q: What is it that led you to want to be a tax practitioner?
Rahrig: Well, when I was in high school, and it was, you know, time to start thinking about what to major in, when you're going to college, I was trying to figure out what to do. And I was on the news magazine and yearbook staff. And so I thought, “Oh, maybe I should be a graphic designer,” but I thought it was a bit too artsy for me, and there wasn't a lot of job security. So then my dad said, “Well, you're really great at, you know, arguing your point. So why don't you be a lawyer?” And I said, “Well, I don't want to be a workaholic or pay for law school.” And then he said, “Well, you're good at math. So why don't you go into accounting?” And, you know, I think most of us that are accountants know that you don't have to be, quote, good at math to go into accounting. But here I am, all these years later. And I just find it funny, because when I turned down the whole law thing I said it was because I didn't want to be a workaholic. But as most of us know, when you go into public accounting, that's exactly what you become, but at a lower pay rate than lawyers, but um, I don't regret any of it. I've had a good career so far, and it's just continuing to grow, I feel like I'm still at the beginning of it.
Q: What are the qualities of accounting that you identified as the best for your career path?
Rahrig: Yes, so what I liked about accounting is that, one, it's stable. So you're always going to need accountants. They say that, you know, there's this whole wave of AI happening. But, you know, AI can't fix clients getting you documents in a poor form, or a disorganized fashion, or missing things and whatnot. So you're always still going to need accountants, in some capacity, I think as time goes on, it becomes more and more in a consulting capacity, instead of just mindless tax preparation. And that's where CPAs and EAs can bring value. Because they know the tax law and how it changes and how you can structure things to save money. So I liked that it was stable, and that it's something that is always going to be around, always have a need for, and that you can do anywhere and do remotely. But on top of that. I also liked how structured it was, especially the tax side, because when you go into accounting, most people end up going into audit. But I liked how structured tax was, you know, obviously tax has gray areas. But I think in general, it's pretty structured. And there's always an answer that you're looking for. And that's just kind of how the way my brain functions. I like things that are in black and white. And so I naturally gravitated toward that structure.
Q: What was the moment where everything clicked?
Rahrig: I'd say when it came to accounting, it just kind of came naturally. I think, you know, people have affinities toward certain things more than others, there's left brain people and right brain people. And I'm very type A and meticulous, actually, throughout my life. People will often say, Oh, you're so OCD. And my dad was an RN. And there's a negative connotation with OCD, because it's actually a diagnosis someone can be given. So he would say no, no, Adriana, you don't have OCD, you're just meticulous. And so it just kind of clicked when I was an undergrad, I didn't have an issue with the material or anything. And in my case, my career, I think has been unique to a lot of people's path, at least in the beginning, because I started in high net-worth individual tax compliance. And I didn't even really plan that. I just started with PwC, and that's the group they put me in. And it just happened to work out really well. Because for the prior two or three years, I had already been doing my parents taxes in high school. So I already felt comfortable with the whole concept of tax returns, particularly individual returns. And so I just naturally fell into that, and it made sense. And then from there, it started to incorporate more small business entities like S-Corps and partnerships, and it just kept growing to bigger and bigger businesses. And so I've had a lot of well rounded experience and a lot of things that I've kind of seen things come full circle for the most part. So it just kind of naturally clicked. I don't think for me there was ever one eureka moment. But when I look back at I think it all makes a lot of sense.
Q: What was it like doing your parents’ taxes?
Rahrig: Well, for me, I liked it. The way it came about, actually, was I was looking over their tax return that a friend of my mom's had done for them. And it just wasn't making a lot of sense. I'm not gonna go into a lot of detail, but it didn't make sense to me. And so I went to my accounting professor about it and ask them, hey, you know, is this right? And, you know, my suspicions, were confirmed by my accounting professor. And at that point, I started doing their taxes. And I just liked how, like I said, how structured it was. And I found it very simple. And I have friends all the time that say, they don't know how you can do this for a living like all these forms and laws and technicalities. And I think it just comes down to your brain and how you're wired. And so for me as a high school student, I just liked doing it. You know, I wasn't asked by my parents, I just said, “Alright, I'm going to start doing this.” And I'm glad I did, because it made my transition to PwC in the real world after grad school a lot easier.
Q: What was it like going to your parents and saying, “No, I can do this better,”?
Rahrig: Well, my mom at the time, was very skeptical. I remember her saying, “Oh, you think that just because you went to college for a semester and you think you know, everything now.” I look back at that and laugh. And you know, she laughs with me, too. But I mean, I think that's a reasonable kind of reaction for a parent to have, you know, at that point, you're 18 years old. What does your kid know? She put a lot of trust in her friend. And it turns out her friend wasn't a CPA, wasn't an EA, wasn't any of that. And I think that's a myth brings me to a misconception that a lot of people have when it comes to quote-unquote, tax repairs. Anybody can be a tax preparer, all you have to do is register for a PTIN with the IRS. But even beyond that, there's a lot of people, ghost tax repairs that don't have PTINs. They just will, quote, prepare it for you, but submitted yours self-prepared. You pay them, but they're not on paper anywhere. Yeah, so just because someone's a tax preparer doesn't actually mean they have any sort of education to back it up or training. I'm sure many do. But you have to be careful in that regard. And a lot of people are just ignorant, and they don't realize that. And so my mom just kind of fell into that category, because she trusted her friend and was skeptical of her, you know, under 21-year-old daughter, saying, Hey, this is wrong, but she came around, and it's been smooth sailing ever since.
Q: How important was it to get your CPA license?
Rahrig: Very important. So I remember in undergrad, when you are an accounting major, typically a lot of campuses have a Beta Alpha Psi chapter, which is essentially an honor society for accounting majors. And they tell you about the, quote, million dollar advantage, which is that on average, when you have a CPA license versus if you don't, you make a million more dollars over your lifetime. And so it just made sense to get it. Because if you're gonna go through all this schooling, pay all this money go through all this testing, why would you not seal the deal with that license, which is the gold standard for the industry. Look at any job post, for a position, obviously not an entry-level position, but manager and above for sure. And you have to have a CPA license, you want to go out on your private practice, the first thing someone looks for is your CPA license, they want to make sure that you're qualified and you have the training, and you tend to get paid more, going back to that million dollar advantage with a CPA license. So I knew it was something I needed to do. And it made the most sense to do it as close to college as possible, because academia and the real world are very different. And I knew that if I waited too long after entering the real world, it wouldn't materialize or be very difficult.
Q: What did it take for you to get your license?
Rahrig: So besides having your bachelor's degree, which doesn't have to be in accounting, you have to have, I believe it's 150 credit hours. Yes. So essentially, a bachelor's degree is 120, and then a master's degree, typically 30. But if you don't have your bachelor's in accounting, you just need to make sure you take certain courses that meet the requirements to get a CPA license. And then of course, you have to sit for the CPA exam. There are four sections, and when I took it, it was before the new version of the CPA exam came out. And I actually scheduled my last two exams was REG, which was tax and business law, and FAR, which is Financial Accounting Reporting. I scheduled them within 30 days of each other and FAR was scheduled the very, very last day that the old exam was being offered. Because I was in grad school I was taking for graduate classes working 30 hours a week, trying to make it happen and thankfully I passed, so everything worked out. But I had to sit for those exams pay for that. And then on top of that, you also have to have a year of work experience under a CPA. And so once I had a year at PwC, I submitted the last part of the paperwork. And in a month or so I had my license.
Q: Can you put into context how challenging it is to pass all parts of the CPA exam?
Rahrig: I think some people tend to be more natural test takers than others. You know, people learn differently and test differently. So I think that's a component to it. But I think another big factor in it is your environmental factor, what do you have going on in your life, concurrently, while studying for the CPA exam, the way that I did it was I took the exams, in the order that I was taking the same topics of graduate courses. So the very first one I took was audit, and you can start taking the CPA exam, before you even have your bachelor's degree. I mean, the requirements vary by state, I took it and even though I was a Florida resident, I think I sat for it in Georgia. And then I transferred it to Florida and became licensed here, that's typically a thing people do, so that they can sit for the exam earlier, or, you know, if there's different course requirements, like I think at the time, you had to have two business law classes in Florida, and then they got rid of it. Whereas other states, they only required one. So that's all technical stuff that people can look into who are on their journey to be a CPA. But, I took the exams in the order, I was taking my classes. And so I took audit first, because I just finished an audit class. So all of that knowledge and information was fresh in my brain, then I took BEC next, and then I took REG and FAR, because that was just the order of how my classes turned out.
And I think that's a great way to go about it. Because if you don't take it, soon after taking the course, and then life gets in the way, and you have a full-time job or you know, if you have kids or whatever personal responsibilities you have outside of work. You forget all of that information. The exam is largely academic in nature, it's it's not very kind of real world, the way it works at firms, when you actually start working, you know, it's a test. So it mirrors, academia and the kinds of exams you're used to taking in your degree courses. So it makes sense to take them at the same time that you're getting the material that way, it's fresh in your mind. So that worked out really well for me. And I didn't find them, you know, really, so rigorous. I mean, I was definitely very prepared. I used the Becker studying courses. And honestly, you know, they the Becker says, as you know, to do every single multiple choice question every single simulation, and if you don't pass they'll reimburse you, or what is it? Maybe not reimburse you, but allow you to take the course again, to study more. I mean, I may have done every single multiple choice question and simulation for audit, because those questions are very conceptual, and they came very easily. But you know, when you get to REG, and FAR, they're much more technical. And I just didn't have time to sit there and take hundreds and hundreds of questions and simulations. So toward the end, I didn't even do every single question, and I still felt very prepared for the exam. So I think that's another key thing is having materials to actually study for it, especially if you're a student and you don't have real-world experience yet.
Q: How did you balance preparing for the exam while maintaining your work and every other part of your life?
Rahrig: You really just have to be disciplined, which I think is a lot easier to do when you're already in student mode. Because you're used to having a very structured schedule. If you go to class and you have homework you need to do so you're used to blocking out time. Whereas once you're a full-time worker in the workforce, it can be more difficult to carve out time to sit down for long periods and focus on something like that. So I was just very diligent and disciplined in that, I knew that this time, I needed to sit down and get through x module or this part of the module. And I would just sit there and crank it out. If you asked me to do that, now, I would probably struggle with it very much, because I'm so far removed from the, quote, student life. So I think that's another reason to do it while you're a student, as opposed to waiting till later in life, when you have all these things competing for your attention.
Q: How did your doors open once you became a licensed CPA?
Rahrig: When you're already at a firm, they will, at most public accounting firms, especially the big four, like PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, you tend to get a signing bonus, as long as you pass the CPA exam within a certain amount of time, they may have changed it, you know, it's been some years since I was at PWC. But I got a $5,000 signing bonus, I think it was actually in my first paycheck, because I had already passed the CPA exam before starting with PwC. After grad school, I just had to wait a year to get officially licensed because of the experience requirement. But in terms of once you're looking for another job, the first thing someone looks for is a CPA. So one thing that I encourage all people to do is, once you do have your CPA license at the top of your resume, make sure you put a comma after your name and put CPA and if you aren’t officially licensed yet, but you've already taken all of the exam or parts of the exam, have a section for that, below your education that says like professional licensure is and you know, don't indicate that you're licensed but that you've passed all the exams, or that you pass this one and that one, because that's what CPA firms want to know, they want to know that you're looking to do that because they can't promote you past a certain level until you have that license. And when you're looking for other jobs, whenever that time comes, you get paid more as a CPA. And for things like Taxfyle, you have to be a CPA or an EA. So it does open up a lot of doors and increase your earnings potential.
Q: After PwC, where did you go from there?
Rahrig: So at PwC, I requested a transfer from the Miami office to their Charlotte office. And I arrived in Charlotte about half a year or so before COVID hit. And so that was great timing, to move away from home and the only place you've ever known right before a global pandemic hits. So that was a really tough year, I think it was a tough year for pretty much everybody.
In the office there, it was just different than the niche group I had in Miami. And you know, it was it was a hard year for everybody. And that all factored into work. And so I ended up going to a smaller tax only firm in the Charlotte area. And I was there for about a year, working remotely. I came back to Florida, a couple months after taking that job. So I was working remotely, the pandemic was still going on and pretty much full swing since it was early on. And then after about a year of that I said I can't do this anymore. Public accounting, it's too much. And, you know, everyone knows that maybe you don't realize how much it can be when you're in school. But it also depends on the firm you're at.
Some firms, not firms, I would say some teams, because if it's a huge company, it can be very different from office to office or even from engagement team to engagement team. But some can be a lot more toxic than others or have way higher hours and others or have way less resources than others that make it difficult to do your job as efficiently as possible. And so I was just fed up and done, especially now that the public accounting industries, I think is even more dire straits than it was before. So I left public accounting and I went to the corporate world so where the grass is greener, and I did that for about a year and a half. And then I would have continued with this company. It was a large, international, publicly traded company. But my personal life circumstances were changing. I was moving back to the West Palm Beach area for personal reasons. And so I was selling my condo In Fort Lauderdale, and because they were a corporate company and management had a more old fashioned management style, they wanted everyone in the office. And as we all know, COVID really changed the game when it came to remote work, and it's exempt, it's in the workplace. So I said, “Hey, you know, we have a great team here, I love my manager, my manager loves me, we have a good thing going, I want to stay here, I'm comfortable. But I'm not going to drive from, you know, West Palm Beach area to Hollywood every day.”
I suspected that working remotely wouldn't be allowed. And that ended up being the case. So, you know, I just had to put in my two weeks notice once I found a job, and it was all in cordial terms, they understood and everything, but I moved. And it was at that point where I decided, you know, I think it's time to go out on my own full time, because I had been growing my side hustle for about two years now. And it's just boomed from word of mouth, and things like that, and then boomed even more once I found out about Taxfyle. So I was crunching the numbers and I said, “Forget this, like, I can have this flexibility, this freedom to work when I want in my own hours, wherever I want be my own boss, unlimited earnings potential.” And so that's what I've decided to do.
Q: What’s it like going from a corporate office to taking that leap of faith and betting on yourself and knowing you can run a successful solo practice?
Rahrig: I think it's definitely scary at first, because there's so many unknown variables. And it's different than what you've been kind of spoon fed for years in school. That’s the thing, when you're an accounting major in school, you know, you kind of drink the Kool Aid of go into public accounting, which I think for a lot of people is a good thing to do. Because you get a lot of experience, you get recognition on your resume for working at so and so firm, especially if it's at a big four firm. So that opens up a lot of doors for you, once you've been in public accounting, and if you want to leave, because it's just doesn't work for your lifestyle or whatever. A lot of times, if you're younger, especially you kind of sit there scratching your head going, “Well, what do I do now?” Because you haven't really been prepared for that step, especially not opening up your own practice, so to speak. And so I never really had very clear aspirations of, you know, by this, this, this age, I'm going to have my own practice, blah, blah, blah.
Honestly, I kind of just stumbled into it, I had come back to Florida from North Carolina, and I joined a CrossFit gym. And you know, when you meet people, they say, “Oh, what do you do?” And I said I’m a CPA and I do taxes. And so the gym owner, who kind of became a friend, heard about this. And so one day, he came up to me and said, “Hey, I need a CPA. Do you want to be the CPA for the gym?” And I saw it as an opportunity.
Was I nervous as heck at first? Absolutely. And did I doubt myself? Definitely. I was questioning did I have the knowledge to do this was I capable of doing mistakes, you know, I didn't want to mess up someone's business, that's their livelihood. So I remember telling him in the beginning, you know, if at any point, I feel like I'm not qualified to do this, I will let you know. And I just started, you know, researching more of the small business application side of it, I had some exposure to it, at the smaller public accounting firm I worked at, but it wasn't quite this small business. And so I just started, you know, looking things up, Google's my best friend. And one thing led to another and I gained a lot of confidence and realized I could do this. And then he referred me to other people. And, you know, then I told my family members that I was starting to do this, like for real. And so I have a bunch of family member clients. And then one client, you know, tells another then tells another and another, and it just kept growing.
I think having that natural growth, over time, helped build my confidence and show me that it was possible to do this, especially once I found Taxfyle, because before Taxfyle, it was just my own client pool. You know, that was nowhere near enough to replace the salary that I was making with my nine to five job. And I didn't want to take a big pay cut and small business owners in some of my clients, they always say, you know, if you want to have your own business, you really have to take that leap of faith, you know, to see it build up to be the amount of money you're used to making. But it's scary to do that. So I don't think, I wouldn’t, I know I wouldn't have made that leap unless I had found Taxfyle, because that's just a bottomless opportunity of work that you can do. You don't have to worry about “Oh, how I gonna get x more clients so that I can make x more revenue.” That is all at your fingertips with Taxfyle, you just have to do the work, show that you do it well and correctly, and you're a nice person to work with. And the opportunity is unlimited. So once I figured that out, and did two seasons with Taxfyle, I just looked at the numbers, and I said, this just makes sense. And so I just took the plunge and I don't have any reservations that it's not going to work out.
Q: How does Taxfyle fit into your personal goals?
Rahrig: It fits in really well, because at first, I was looking for ways to increase my side hustle income, without, you know, doing crazy advertising or having to accept kind of, I don't want to say bottom of the barrel clients, but having to accept, not the greatest clients, you know, kind of the clients that other firms cut loose, because it's just not worth the hassle, or whatever, either because they have a bad attitude, or they get their stuff to you too late, whatever it is, I didn't want to have to do all of that and stress out my life so much. And I just wanted to make more side income.
So, when I heard about Taxfyle, I thought, “Hey, this is a great way to make income on the side.” And so at first I was on a pilot engagement in the fall of 2022. It was a client that wanted to test things out before doing a full contract. And it worked out great. And I was just amazed at the numbers and how little time I spent equaled so many dollars. And then this past spring of 2023, I was put on a lot more full engagements, and I put a little bit more time into it, it was still part time. And I just couldn't believe it. The money that I was making, I just thought it was insane. And I did it part time for a month and a half. And it was so much more than my full-time salary. And that's when I realized that this was the perfect thing for me because it's on my own hours.
If there's a day where I'm, you know, not feeling well, or something's going on. Personally, I don't have to work that day, I can work wherever I want when I want. And because tax seasons are so concentrated, you can make the majority of your money during the two tax seasons each year. And depending on how many hours you're willing to work those two seasons and how much money you want to make, you don't even really have to work the rest of the year if you don't want to. But you have the opportunity to if you want. So it's unlimited earnings potential. So it's really just, it's like a piece of clay, I can just form it and mold it to fit into my life. However I want it to be, however, my life changes. And that flexibility is priceless.
Q: How do you balance your solo practice with Taxfyle?
Rahrig: I'm very, I mean, now that I've done this for a couple seasons, I know what to expect when it comes to Taxfyle and obviously my own clients. And so with Taxfyle, you know, because Taxfyle is contracting with other CPA firms that have a need to fill in terms of people preparing or reviewing tax returns, things typically don't start coming through the pipeline until February. Which week in February is heavily dependent on the particular client. But I use that as an opportunity to try to get as much of my own client stuff done in January as possible.
Obviously, a lot of that depends on when they give me their information. But especially for some of my small business clients where they own their own business, and I'm their CPA for the business, I'm doing the bookkeeping each month I file many quarterly reports. And so when it comes January, it's really up to me to prepare the return. And I already have all the information because I do the books. So that's an easy way for me to knock out some S-corp returns and then the personal return most likely unless you know they're waiting on some brokerage statements or something, but you can get the majority of it done by then. And so it just becomes being a game of being aware of what work you have left and the time commitment it takes and filling in the gaps where you can.
Q: How do you like to decompress from the rigors of tax season?
Rahrig: Well, I'd say long walks on the beach and being a couch potato. Well, not really long walks on the beach, but I do like being a couch potato. Sometimes like, you know, have you ever gone on vacation and it was so jam packed that when you got back, you needed a vacation from that vacation? So after tax season, even if you're not working crazy hours, 70, 80 hour weeks, you can be working 40, 45, 50 hour weeks. Just kind of the craziness, like how much is compressed just with all the different clients and some of them might be frustrating. Even if it's not crazy hours, you still want to just sit there and do nothing. And so part of me likes to enjoy that; dabble in that from time to time.
I also really enjoy CrossFit. I haven't been in a while; I had some unfortunate personal things come up last year, but definitely it's in my sights to rejoin the CrossFit gym that I joined here originally. Another thing I like to do is my boyfriend is in an acapella group, and oftentimes on Monday nights after their weekly rehearsal to go to an open mic night at this dive bar. And most of the time I joined to it's just a fun way to decompress, hang out with friends socialize. I haven't worked up the courage to sing yet. I mean, when you're with a group of people that sing pretty much professionally, it's kind of intimidating to go on after them. So I haven't quite worked up the courage. But now that I've decided to go full-time on my own, I have way more free time to pursue things like taking vocal lessons so that I can hone that skill more and sing with them more especially publicly.
I love to take dance lessons too, because my boyfriend's also a great dancer, and shamefully I am not even though I am half Latina. So I need to work on that too. And I'd also like to learn the language. So maybe take some classes, whether it's online, most likely online. And then other things too. Like, as a kid, I always wanted to get into hand stamping jewelry. I've bought it for years, and I always told myself when I was a kid, I said one day when I'm an adult, I'm gonna buy all the materials, I'm gonna make it myself. And I think now's the time to do that. And to explore all these interests and passions I have. Another thing I really enjoy is a canvas painting. Now I'm sure you've heard of the franchise, not the franchise, I'm sure you've heard of the company painting with a twist and all the locations they have. I really enjoy that. I think it's a kind of like a therapeutic, just calming way. And you end up with some nice art. And it can also be a social thing. You know, you go with a friend with your significant other with your brother, your sister, your parents, it's open to all ages, heck, even kids. So I like to do that a bit more I think too.
Q: It’s great that you have such a diverse palette of ways to enjoy the offseason or have that Sunday during March to yourself.
Rahrig: Yeah, it's, it's nice, because it's weird, because I'm very rational and type A, but then I also have at the same time, this creative side, which, you know, may not be as fluid and creative, as you know, real artists or people that are more naturally musically talented than I am. But I still really enjoy it. I guess another thing I'd like to do, too, is as work on the playing piano more. So I grew up taking lessons. So I play the piano, but I haven't really practiced in a very long time. So I could spend more time honing that skill and get back to as good as I used to be.
Q: And then you can play a song and sing with it too.
Rahrig: Yeah, exactly. Now, that's something that my boyfriend and I actually do like to do. Because he's really good at freestyling because he's, you know, been in music for so long. And that's just how his brain works and is wired. And so he can just randomly play something or make something up because he understands music theory, a lot more than I do with chords and progressions and all that technical jargon that I don't understand. So I'm slowly warming up to getting comfortable with just sort of freestyling with him. So there'll be some nights where he'll just pull out his guitar and start playing something and then, you know, he'll show me something to play on the piano, and we'll just kind of make things happen and it's really nice and chill to do.
Q: Thank you Adriana, I really appreciate you having the time to talk about your life and how your career has progressed, especially with Taxfyle.
Rahrig: Yes, thank you so much for having me on and giving me the opportunity to share my experiences and I hope that anyone listening gives Taxfyle a chance you know. See for yourself how it can work for you and how it can fit into your life because at the end of the day, it's what you make of it.