Pro Spotlight: Caroline Kennerty Belekis on her career as an IRS enrolled agent and how Taxfyle benefits her
Caroline Kennerty Belekis talks about how she became an accountant on this Pro Spotlight feature. Her exposure to the intricacies of accounting and taxation, coupled with a realization of the earning potential, prompted her to explore private accounting roles. In this feature, Caroline talks about her journey as an EA discovering the Taxfyle platform and how she embraces the flexibility it offers.
Q: How did you become an accountant?
Caroline: I got my bachelor's degree from the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. The last year of my degree, I started an internship at a local CPA firm. I learned a lot from the owner, and I saw the earning potential. I then went into several private accounting jobs. I learned a wide range of accounting skills, which is absolutely necessary to grasp the tax world. I was a payroll accountant for a medical office, I worked directly under the CFO. I realized I didn't enjoy working in that medical environment, I love the coworkers more than the job, or the tasks they asked me to do, but unfortunately I wasn't being paid enough. Because of my student loans incurred while in college, I looked for something with more money. During COVID, I was just stuck at home, and I decided to start studying for the Enrolled Agent exam, which is just being an IRS Enrolled Agent. It's very different from being a CPA. CPAs are more focused on audits, preparing financials and just basic accounting. Whereas Enrolled Agents are more tax-focused. They're held by a high ethical standard with the IRS. They follow circular 230. And it's just more of a tax-focused type of bucket as you would say, in the accounting world.
Q: What was it about becoming an enrolled agent that you felt was necessary to reach the point in your career that you desired?
Caroline: I think being an EA, just took me to a different level, as far as you didn't just have to apply for staff accounting jobs. And with the amount of student loans I still had, I think the Enrolled Agent (credential) put me – it wasn't at a CPA level, so to speak – it definitely gave me a leg up in the industry. It just taught me so much. I mean, I kind of thought I knew how taxes work. But being an EA, it just kind of gave me more. The knowledge is, you know, power, so to speak, made me more confident inside.
Q: How did you hear about the credential and where did you begin the steps for acquiring it?
Caroline: So honestly, being an EA – I had never – no one ever really talks about it. And the way I heard about it was the first CPA firm I ever worked for local CPA for Andy Cooke CPA, based in Edisto. Beach, South Carolina. He had an enrolled agent on his payroll, and he told me that he couldn't value [the role] more. He was the one who told me that [having an EA] was something that was really beneficial for his firm. And she could handle things that he couldn't.
He tried to talk me into becoming an EA, right when I graduated college, however, right when I graduated college, I was totally over studying and doing all that stuff. I just wanted to go out in the field. So I think during COVID, [I was] just sitting at home and not having much to do and just being in your thoughts. I remembered Andy telling me that, an EA is a thing to do, and I looked into it. I mean, it was just, as simple as going on the internet and learning that it was way cheaper than being a CPA. You have to take three tests, and I ordered an exam prep study course. And yeah, so honestly, I just learned it from the first CPA firm. I worked at. Andy Cook, he was the one that told me this was very beneficial for his business, and he couldn't be as successful as he is without her and she's kind of like the wizard behind the curtain, handling things.
Q: What are the biggest benefits you've been able to enjoy from having that Enrolled Agent license?
Caroline: Probably the biggest benefit is I would say, not only like, internally, it gave me confidence and self esteem with just the knowledge and knowing things more, you know, if you have to know the rules to play the game, if if you want to say it like that. And so that was probably one of the best things. The other thing is like, yeah, just I felt like I had a leg up when I was looking for jobs. Like, I'm not just looking for a staff, accountant job, I knew I wanted to do taxes. The EA route showed me that, you know, bookkeeping and everything, like I was good at it. I'm very organized. But taxes are fun. And it's not always the same [thing]. It's actually never the same [thing]. And, yeah, I think it was just the different. I had like a little niche in that accounting world. And I knew that I can do that I knew it was rare, I think there's still less than I think there's less than 35,000. EAS in the world. So I mean, I know it's rare.
Q: How can Enrolled Agents benefit from Taxfyle’s platform?
Caroline: An EA can benefit just from the freedom of being able to take a tax return job. And, you know, personal experience. I worked at a CPA firm as an EA recently. And I was on salary, and I was working a lot because tax season was ramping up, and the time you put in to a salary job, you know, 50 - 60 hours a week, I was making better money with Taxfyle, [by] just being able to pick up a job independently, and seeing the cut of some money I would make out of it, and knowing that I think without my EA, I would look at it in like a simple 1040 would probably take me hours. But now [that] I'm an EA, it's almost second nature, a lot of things. And I can catch a lot of other things as well, just because it's ingrained in my brain. And so I can take on more jobs with Taxfyle, than a CPA firm could probably assigned to me, you know, within management, it was just an easier flow workflow. And it was very comfortable. I don't know, I was just very comfortable with it.
Q: How has the Taxfyle help your career and financial goals?
Caroline: When I first started, I had no expectations. Ireally thought it was just going to be a side gig. And I was going to also have an office job which I did that for a little bit. But it's actually turned into something that I can see long term and [do] full-time. It's definitely, my goals in life, honestly, I love to travel, I love to travel the world. I think I've been to Canada, and I want to say, 11 countries. And I want to go to more. My husband and I have this joke but also like marriage goal to go visit every Caribbean island there is. One time we went to Europe and we visited five countries in 10 days now that's not really a vacation. But I learned a lot I saw a lot the world became way bigger. And you know, it was great. It wanted me, it gave me a hunger for more I wanted to travel more, but it's so expensive and I knew that I couldn't just keep up with this love I have for traveling with a you know, a salary job, you know, I can't even it's hard for me to just keep up with the mortgage and my bills and my student loans and then to just like have traveling as a hobby it's really like an expensive thing to do and it takes planning and organizing and a lot of other things.
So [with] Taxfyle this year I am happy to say I went to the Bahamas with my husband I think it's the fourth Caribbean island we've been to and I really I was worried in the beginning of the year because I didn't know if I could afford it but Taxfyle really I mean I think I jumped in. This is my second season, second year, with with Taxfyle and I jumped in mid-March and I think I paid for our entire vacation, I'll put it that way, easily with the money I made at Taxfyle. So it just shows me the potential that there is. And I know how much money I made last year, in the amount I made this year in such a short amount of time. I mean, I just feel like the possibilities are endless. And I'm really excited because I can, I can actually keep up my travel goals and, and things like that with Taxfyle.
Q: How does the Pro Support Team help keep you on the right path when you're completing jobs?
Caroline: They're great. The Taxfyle support team, if I can name drop, Kurk, AJ, Ally, Ryan. I think that's about it. They're all awesome. Megan, I think they're awesome. I can remember this is actually last year, not this year, I was working completing jobs, like on a roll. And then all of a sudden, like, I guess they could tell that I had no activity, like something had happened. And I think it was Kurk that reached out to me personally on my cell phone and wanted to make sure like I was okay. And if something had happened. And I told him like, it was a family member thing, it was my grandmother at the time, had gotten really sick. And she's, you know, 96 years old. And so, if anything, the fact that he reached out like that on a personal level. I've never met these people before, but they seemed so – I felt like I knew them, you know. The fact that he was so friendly, and he seemed like he really genuinely seemed like he cared. Like, is everything okay? And I was like, oh, it's yeah, everything's okay. Like, I just, I've had a family member who's sick, and sorry, I've just kind of like ghosted you guys for a little bit. And he was like, that's okay. Just want to like, check in and make sure like, we're all good. And this and that.
So that was one thing I definitely remember. And, it was nice. Like I said, I mean, I don't know these people. I've never met them in person, I would love to maybe one day, but they seem so warm and welcome. And like, he wasn't worried that I wasn't getting work done. I feel like he was just worried that there's no activity on my profile. [That I’m] not picking up jobs. And yes, there was something going on in my personal life, but I didn't feel like I needed to tell I didn't want to bother anyone with it.
And then I think there were a couple [of times] maybe this year [in the] season where there are so many jobs, you're like, Whoa, holy, you know, I can't I have a maximum amount I can only take but I was kind of hungry. I would like more. And I had to simply reach out to AJ, through a Slack message, I believe. And within an hour, like within maybe even 15 minutes. I mean, he's quick. They're all they're so quick to respond. They're great. They're friendly. I think very soon, he opened up more availability on my profile, so I could take more jobs, because I'd let him know, like, hey, it's got me at the max of 10 jobs right now. Can I have more? And I got exactly what I asked for. I mean, it's just like, there's no question. There's nothing, it was very quick. And if anything, I was like, that's awesome. Because I was hungry. And if it weren't for people like him the quick respond and, you know, unlock technical things on the website for me then like, I mean, I'm very thankful. They're all they're great. They're great.
Q: What do you do to stay successful as a Taxfyle Pro?
Caroline: Um, what do I do to stay successful? I research, a lot of stuff, the tax law, the code, it changes all the time. It's not the most fun reading, but you know, there are articles, and you have to always make sure that you're going to a reputable place. Honestly, as an EA, I go to the IRS website a lot. But um, to stay, you know, relevant and, and just stay professional in this industry. I'm also a member of the NAEA, which is the National Association of Enrolled Agents. So every month I get a nice little magazine with articles with some tips. It tells me about new law cases that just went through that might change the law gives us a little heads up on things that might happen. Other things like that.
So I'm a member of the NAEA. I read a lot on the internet and the Slack channel. That's one thing so the Slack message channel, you'll see somebody who's just got a weird text train going on. And they're like, I'm not sure about this, what I've read on the internet, just, I'm not too sure, can I get some help? And it's amazing how many people help each other out. It's not a dog-eat-dog world at Taxfyle, in my opinion. Everybody is there to help each other. And so that's another thing I've learned. I've honestly learned so much just from reading some of the Slack messages of the other Professionals, the other Tax Pros that are just like asking questions, “Should I do this? Should I do that?” You know, what kind of advice should I give them, and to see other people helping other professionals. It's, it's really, it's delightful. It's nice. It's, it's great to see a Taxfyle bringing a community of accounting professionals together like that to work as a team, rather than like, you know, a dog-eat-dog world. It's great.
Q: Where are some of the favorite places that you've traveled to?
Caroline: That's a good question. Probably my favorite place has been Venice, Italy. Another one is Nice, France. Those two were very – they opened my eyes up a lot to just history and how small we are, you know, in the grand scheme of things, and legacy, and just how important it is to fight for what you believe in. My other favorite is probably Dominican Republic, just because the culture there was really cool.
Q: And Kurk had mentioned that you're really into F1. Any plans to travel to some of the races?
Caroline: Yes, so I am a sports fan. Probably my favorite sport right now is Formula One. I also like the UFC. And for Formula One, I would love to visit a race. It is very, very expensive. Anybody who follows Formula One, and has even tried to buy ticket it can be as expensive as a vehicle these days. So yes, that is also that's a goal of mine. I think Formula One is just I think they had a contract with Miami to have a race there every year. And I know that Taxfyle is based in Miami. So yes, I would love to go to a Formula One race in Miami. That's probably the first choice. But I gotta make some money first, with Taxfyle, before I can do that. But yes, I love Formula One. I would love to go see a rice in time and probably my favorite drivers are Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and Carlos Sainz.
Q: How did you get into the sport?
Caroline: How did I get into it? Honestly, so COVID when COVID hit, I was a big football fan – college football fan. And then they just like stopped all the college sports. But I think Formula One just kept going on. And at the same time, Netflix had come out with their Drive to Survive series television series. And I just kind of became obsessed with the Netflix series. And then when my husband, he's an electrical engineer, but he's all about cars and things like that. And so it kinda like met us in the middle because I love fast cars. And I love the guys in Netflix’s Drive to Survive, and he loves the engineering part and like how fast the pitstops can be. And he's a huge Red Bull fan. I mean, he's probably one of the biggest Red Bull fans you could ever meet. So it's a fun era. I love it. Yeah.
Q: So why Carlo Sainz and not Charles?
Caroline: Okay, Carlos because I just love him and him in general, his personality. I love trolls LeClaire to, like you can't put me on spot like that. My husband's name was Charles. I gotta always go with Charles. I just love Carlos because he's been from team to team to team. And you know, from Lando Norris, to anyone else who's been as teammate. They say that he's awesome. And you just see that he's just a fun loving, you know, he's there to win. But he's, he's not as serious as Max Verstappen is, I guess? He's got a little bit of fun to him like Danny Ricardo, which I wish Daniel Carter would be driving, but he's not.